Gingrich slams Obama on handling of Libya

Updated: 5:22 p.m. ET

Likely GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich took aim at President Obama's foreign policy in Libya on Tuesday, calling the military operation there "badly run" and based on misguided directives.

Arguing that he "would not have intervened" in the first place, Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, said that the U.S. should now be focused on getting Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi out.

"I would not have intervened," Gingrich told NBC's Matt Lauer on "Today." But he added that, "Having decided to go there... if Qaddafi does not leave power it will be a defeat for the U.S., it will lengthen our engagement, it will increase our costs."

"The president said on March 3, 'Qaddafi has to go,'" Gingrich told NBC's Matt Lauer on "Today." "Well, they're now saying this is a humanitarian intervention - which is nonsense. If this is not designed to get rid of Qaddafi, then this makes no sense at all."

Following the comments, critics pointed out that on March 8 Gingrich argued for intervention: When asked what he would do about Libya during an interview on Fox News earlier this month, Gingrich said he would "exercise a no-fly zone this evening."

In a statement on Wednesday posted to his Facebook page, Gingrich clarified his position, arguing that before Obama called for the ouster of Qaddafi on March 3, "there were options to be indirect and subtle to achieve the desired result with no United States forces."

In light of Obama's statement (which he argued "put the prestige and authority of the United States on the line"), however, Gingrich said he thought "anything short of a successful, public campaign for regime change would have been seen as a defeat for the United States."

On "Today," Gingrich also called the characterization of recent military actions in Libya as a "humanitarian intervention" a "public relations conversation," and argued that if the same standard were held up to other countries, "we could get engaged...in all sorts of places."

"The standard he has fallen back to of humanitarian intervention could apply to Sudan, to North Korea, to Zimbabwe, to Syria, this week to Yemen, to Bahrain," Gingrich listed. "This isn't a serious standard; this is a public relations conversation."

"The Sudanese government has been killing people in Darfur for years and years - and somehow all the major powers avoided thinking about it," Gingrich added. "I'm just suggesting to you there's no standard here."

Gingrich also argued that now that the Obama administration had engaged in Libya, it should take "whatever steps are necessary" to defeat Qaddafi.

"I would not have intervened," Gingrich emphasized during his appearance, but added that "Having decided to go there... if Qaddafi does not leave power it will be a defeat for the U.S., it will lengthen our engagement, it will increase our costs."

"I think when you're faced with an enemy who is trying to kill your people, you should take whatever steps are necessary to defeat him," he said. "Obviously, we are now in this - that doesn't mean we should put in ground forces. It does mean we should help equip the Libyan rebels, it means that they ought to have coordinated air strikes, they ought to do what is necessary to win."

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