Where Is Mitt Romney on Libya?

Have you had any difficulty discerning Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney’s precise position on the US involvement in the NATO mission in Libya?

The one consistency has been criticism of President Obama.

But beyond that, he’s seemed a bit all over the Libyan map.

To wit:

Position 1: Obama was weak in not doing this sooner

On March 21, Romney told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt:  ”I support military action in Libya. I support our troops there and the mission that they’ve been given.”

Asked if the president waited too long to strike against Libya, Romney said: “There’s no question but that his inability to have a clear and convincing foreign policy made him delegate to the United Nations and the Arab League a decision about our involvement there. And I happen to have a very personal concern. I mean, 270 people were killed as a result of that tragedy over Lockerbie. We now know that that was ordered directly by Muammar Gaddafi. One of my colleagues at Bain & Co, and a friend, named Nicholas Bright, was killed in that flight. And the President had every piece of information he needed to be able to take action in America’s interest.”

Asked if the president appeared weak, Romney said, “I think one of the comments I’ve heard from individuals abroad is that in the past, America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak. We’re following the French into Libya. I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world.”

Romney attacked the president’s decision to rule out ground forces there, saying “I think that’s something he’s doing for political purposes back home. I can’t confirm that. I can only speculate, but that he wants to make sure that his base here understands the limited role he plans on playing.”

Position 2:

On April 2, Romney traveled to Las Vegas to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition, where he attacked the president’s foreign policy in the Middle East. As was noted at the time by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, ”Romney was silent on Libya, the newest and stickiest military and U.S. policy problem as the United States and its NATO allies enforce a no-fly zone to help rebels oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. After his speech, Romney refused to take questions from reporters about his position on Libya. Instead, he and his wife, Ann, fled down a hallway and escaped up an escalator at The Venetian, where the event was held. ‘I’ve got a lot of positions on a lot of topics, but walking down the hall probably isn’t the best place to describe all those,’ Romney said, deflecting a Libya query as he walked quickly with half a dozen journalists trailing him.”

Writing in the American Conservative magazine, Daniel Larison observed at the time ”Romney seems unable to stake out a foreign policy position until after the Republican consensus has formed, and he then adapts himself to whatever that consensus happens to be…This does save him from the acrobatics required to maintain an anti-Obama position when Obama switches from restraint to starting a war, but it is just another reminder that Romney doesn’t hold foreign policy positions so much as he mimics those who do….For someone who is so fond of mocking Obama’s leadership or lack thereof, it is revealing that when Romney has to stake out a position one way or the other on a controversial question he is unable to show any leadership at all.”

Position 3: Obama is being too aggressive

In a short op-ed titled “Mission Middle” posted at Nationalreview.com on April 21, Romney wrote that he had supported President Obama’s “specific, limited mission,” which he said the president had defined “as humanitarian: We would enforce a no-fly zone to prevent Libyan forces from bombing civilians. I support that.”

But noting that President Obama had joined UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in an op-ed that said “to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good,” Romney attacked the president, saying, “(i)t is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”

Quoting former U.N. ambassador John Bolton who said Obama had set himself up for “massive strategic failure” by demanding the ouster of the Libyan leader “while restricting military force to the limited objective of protecting civilians,” Romney wrote: “Military action cannot be under-deliberated and ad hoc. The president owes it to the American people and Congress to immediately explain his new Libya mission and its strategic rationale.”

In New Hampshire in July, he said, “Now the president is saying we have to remove Qaddafi. Who’s going to own Libya if we get rid of the government there?”

Position 4, after Gadhafi fell: Hooray! Now release the Lockerbie bomber

After Gadhafi fell on August 22, Romney issued a statement saying: ”The world is about to be rid of Muammar el-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done.”

He later told Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network, “I think the world celebrates the idea of getting rid of Gadhafi. This guy was one of the worst actors on the world stage, responsible for terror around the world. I think we`re — we`re very pleased that — that he`s apparently about to — to lose his position of authority. And we hope that the — that the new government is a more representative form of government, that — that honors human rights and is not as abusive and associated with terror as the prior — as the prior regime.”

Position 5 – (Somewhat similar to position 1): It’s about time! The world is a better place without him!

Asked about reports of Gadhafi’s death, Romney told KSCJ in Sioux City Iowa: “I have seen those reports and if accurate I think the response is it’s about time. This was a tyrant who has been killing his own people and of course is responsible for the lives of American citizens lost in the Lockerbie attack….I think people across the world recognize that the world is a better place without Moammar Ghadafi.”

-Jake Tapper

NOTE: I will be blogging more on the 2012 presidential election in this space, now that we are close to a year out and the Iowa Caucuses are quickly approaching.