Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Obama’s handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was his latest foray into the issue of how to handle Libya, a topic on which the candidate’s critics claim Romney has contradicted himself.
When fighting escalated between rebel forces and Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in March 2011, Romney scolded Obama for dragging his feet in using the U.S. military to support the Libyan uprising.
Three days after Obama authorized “limited military action” Romney criticized the president’s action in a radio interview with conservative host Hugh Hewitt, saying the president was being “tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced” and delegating the decision to the United Nations and the Arab League.
But a month after the no-fly zone over Libya took effect, Romney’s line of attack was that Obama had acted to hastily in authorizing military action.
“Military action cannot be under-deliberated and ad hoc,” Romney wrote in an April National Review.com op-ed. “The president owes it to the American people and Congress to immediately explain his new Libya mission and its strategic rationale.”
Romney’s support for Gadhafi’s ouster was equally muddled.
In that same National Review op-ed in April Romney said he agrees with former Ambassador John Bolton’s assessment that Obama set himself up for “massive strategic failure” by calling for Gadhafi’s removal. And in July, Romney was equally dubious about bringing down Gadhafi, saying “who’s going to own Libya if we get rid of the government there?”
When opposition forces killed the Libyan dictator in October, Romney praised the rebels for taking out “one of the worst actors on the world stage, responsible for terror around the world.”
“The world is a better place with Gadhafi gone,” Romney told reporters at a campaign event in Iowa shortly after Gadhafi was killed. “I think it’s about time.”
During the Republican primaries, GOP rival Jon Huntsman accused Romney in October of being a “perfectly lubricated weathervane on the important issues of the day, whether it’s Libya, whether it’s the debt ceiling.”
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., jabbed Romney for his seemingly shifting stance on Libya last week during the Democratic National Convention.
“Talk about being for it before you were against it,” Kerry said. “Mr. Romney, here’s a little advice. Before you debate Barack Obama on foreign policy, you better finish the debate with yourself.”
Romney’s spokesman Eric Ferhnstrom explained his candidate’s multiple positions toward Libya back in October, saying that the former Massachusetts governor “responded to the situation in Libya as it has developed.”
In a press conference Wednesday morning responding to the embassy attacks, Romney said he supports American “leadership” in the Middle East, but did not specify to what degree the U.S. should be involved in the region.
“American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don’t spin out of control,” Romney said. “We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests.”