ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
It was August 2009 and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was in Libya with a group of fellow lawmakers. Late one night they met with the country’s strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
Afterwards, McCain said on Twitter, “Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his "ranch" in Libya – interesting meeting with an interesting man.” See the old tweet here.
According to a spokesperson for the senator, Gadhafi pushed back the meeting from 4p until 11p. When the meeting finally did take place, the spokesperson said, it was brief and took place in a tent on the grounds.
How times have changed.
Today McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is vociferously calling for President Obama to remove Gadhafi from power and drive him out of the country, something that the administration does not want to do.
In Obama’s speech on Libya Monday night, the president said, “There is no question that Libya – and the world – would be better off with Gadhafi out of power. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”
“To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq… [Regime] change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”
McCain quickly countered that the president must see to it that “Gadhafi has to go.”
“What he did incorrectly was send a message to Gadhafi that we're not going to overthrow him by force,” McCain said of Obama’s speech. “And if his policy goal is that Gadhafi has to step down, he has to go, then we have to use every means to make sure that happens.”
“We are now fighting on the side of the anti-Gadhafi rebels. We are paving the way for them. He should acknowledge that. And for the sake of the freedom and independence of these people, Gadhafi has to go. We should continue to support them all the way to Tripoli and he will in my view go rather quickly. He may go quickly anyway.”
“If your policy is regime change and the facts on the ground are that you are helping the anti-Gadhafi rebels succeed on the battlefield, then why should you say that regime change by force would be a mistake?” McCain asked. “It doesn't comport with the facts on the ground and it certainly doesn't comport with what could happen, and that would be a stalemate such as we saw in Iraq where for 10 years we had a no fly zone.”
“If a stalemate like that occurs, you will see a fracturing of the coalition, you will see extremist elements involved and you will also see Gadhafi resume his support of terrorism. He would pursue that with a vengeance," McCain said.
Today that late-night meeting at Gadhafi’s Libya ranch sure seems like an eternity ago.