AP analysis: Obama vindicated by Qaddafi death

By AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's doctrine of dealing with American enemies just got another test — and, for him, another vindication.

The death of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi reinforces Mr. Obama's style of dealing with enemies without immersing the United States in war.

Even skeptics offered grudging support.

For President Obama, the outcome allowed him to stand victorious in the Rose Garden on Thursday, taking note also of the death this year of prominent al Qaeda leaders at the hands of the United States. His message: The United States showed it can help rally an international campaign to protect Libyans and rid the world of a killer without a single American dying.

His vice president, Joe Biden, went further.

"This is more of the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past," Biden said in New Hampshire, as the administration sought again to distance itself from an era of politics once dominated by the Iraq war.

For President Obama, the larger story is of an administration with deepening credibility on how to handle bad actors or international tinderboxes without immersing the United States in war.

It is not expected to impact his re-election chances; 2012 will be the economy election.

But it burnishes his standing on how to protect the country and work with the rest of the world.

As President Obama likes to remind Americans, he is the president who hastened the end of the war in Iraq, and he is now winding down the one in Afghanistan after expanding it greatly. And in a span of months, the country has seen the demise of infamous men who either had killed Americans or haunted the United States by targeting it for terror attacks.

President Obama ordered a daring special forces raid in Pakistan in May that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Does Qaddafi's death validate Obama's policy in Libya?

Last month, a U.S. drone strike in the mountains of Yemen killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen and prominent al Qaeda figure who was deemed as having an operational role in plots against the U.S. The plots included two nearly catastrophic attacks on U.S.-bound planes — an airliner on Christmas 2009 and cargo planes last year.

And then came the confirmed reports Thursday that Qaddafi was dead. There were conflicting accounts on how he died, but little doubt he suffered a grisly end.

Libyans celebrated and President Obama spoke of a victorious revolution for those who had suffered under Qaddafi's rule.

"The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted," Mr. Obama said. He spoke of Qaddafi as a man who beat and killed his people and who for decades robbed a nation of its potential.

What the president didn't note was the criticism he faced from some members of Congress earlier in the campaign, long before rebels got their foothold in overthrowing Qaddafi. President Obama had gotten heat on various fronts — acting too slowly in the first place, acting without sufficient consent from Congress, acting in a way that left the United States vulnerable to endless trouble.

One top Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Thursday that replacing Qaddafi with a representative democracy in Libya will be "worth its weight in gold in terms of our national security." He added that fellow Republicans who "wanted the War Powers Act invoked would not have asked for it if President Obama wasn't the president."

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, asked in Iowa whether Obama deserved credit for killing Qaddafi, answered, "Yes, absolutely."

President Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, also gave the president credit but said Obama could have brought Qaddafi down faster.

He told NBC's "Today Show" Friday: "The fact is we could have ended this conflict a lot earlier if we had used the full weight of U.S. airpower instead of leading from behind."

The U.S. and NATO allies launched a bombing campaign in Libya on March 19 after the United Nations authorized military action in order to protect civilians from attacks perpetrated by Qaddafi loyalists.

The U.S. took the initial lead in the campaign, launching an air and sea assault on Qaddafi's forces in order to protect civilians and provide cover to the Libyan rebels.

By the end of March, the U.S. assumed a secondary role in Libya, with the French and the British carrying out the bulk of the bombing missions. U.S. assets turned their focus toward support and intelligence.

When asked if the outcome was a vindication of his strategy, President Obama said: "We did exactly what we said we were going to do in Libya."

Foreign affairs remains President Obama's strong suit in the public's eyes, with 59 percent approving of how he handles relationships with other countries and 64 percent approving his handling of terrorism, far outpacing his overall approval rating, according to a new AP-GfK poll.

But these issues are much less important to most Americans than the economy and unemployment.