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The Nation

March 11, 2011

Libya poses difficult question for candidates

WASHINGTON — What to do about Libya and Moammar Gadhafi? It's not only a national security question for President Barack Obama. Twenty months before the next election, it's a difficult political question, too, for the Republicans who hope to take his place as commander in chief.

There are plenty of strong opinions coming from Capitol Hill. Lawmakers of both parties are sounding off, including some calling for immediate military action. But others are urging moderation.

Obama met Wednesday with his top security advisers to discuss a variety of humanitarian and military options. The White House emphasized that key decisions have yet to be made.

Yet, Republicans weighing a possible presidential run — who have commented on Libya — seem to favor a no-fly zone. That includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.  Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has criticized Obama for not offering timely support for the Libyan people and has hinted at some kind of U.S. response without being specific.

Others mentioned in the running, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, have not made an issue out of Libya.

Politicians of various stripes "are wary of the very ambiguous situation in Libya," said Ross K. Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor. "A week ago, almost anybody would have put their chips on the fall of Gadhafi. But clearly, there's been a reversal of fortune for him. This is causing bipartisan confusion."

Libya was not even mentioned during a candidates' forum Monday in Waukee, Iowa, that focused heavily on domestic issues and was attended by Pawlenty and Santorum.

Among the most outspoken in calling for a no-fly zone are three senators spanning the political spectrum: John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Arizona Republican John McCain and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman.

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