Obama faces new pressure from GOP over Libya, Middle East

President Obama’s foreign policy is facing increased pressure from Republicans amid a military stalemate in Libya and a poll showing a drop in support for his actions.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) traveled to Libya on Friday and stepped up his call for the U.S. to increase support for the rebels and to officially recognize their government in Benghazi. The visit from the president’s former campaign rival put the Obama administration in an awkward position, as the White House said it was aware of the trip but that McCain was not carrying a diplomatic message from the U.S. government. 

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A day before McCain met with rebel leaders in their Benghazi stronghold, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the president had authorized the use of Predator drones against forces loyal to Muammar Gadhafi, an re-escalation of the U.S. military intervention.

McCain applauded Obama’s decision to intervene but in remarks released by his office, he said “there is much more that needs to be done.” He called for the U.S. to follow European nations in recognizing the Transitional National Council, to expand the NATO air campaign and to provide weapons to the rebels.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said U.S. officials had been “meeting regularly” with opposition leaders, but he indicated there was no change in the decision not to recognize their government. “We think it’s for the people of Libya to decide who the head of their country is, not for the United States to do that,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One in response to McCain’s remarks in Benghazi.

The Libya mission drew criticism from Republicans on the presidential campaign trail, as well. Fresh off the announcement of his exploratory committee, Mitt Romney said on Thursday in a post on the website of the National Review, that the U.S. involvement in Libya had become “another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”

After the announcement about the use of Predator drones, Romney called on the president to explain anew the U.S. mission in Libya.

“It’s pretty clear that the mission for our military that was outlined by the president at the outset, which was a humanitarian mission with a no-fly zone to prevent a disaster of some kind, is obviously a different mission today,” the former Massachusetts governor said on The Hugh Hewitt Show. “I think it’s time for the president to level with the American people, and with the Congress, to describe what mission he intends to employ, and why it is that we see the expansion in military involvement that we’re witnessing.”

Romney also said it was “hard to understand” how Obama had deployed the military to Libya but had said “very little” about the escalating violence in Syria, where the government has opened fire on protesters in the street. 

Joining Romney in criticizing the president was Sarah Palin, a potential GOP candidate who unleashed a series of critical posts on Twitter, saying that “Libya deteriorates, Obama vacillates.”

“Campaigner in Chief needs to justify why we’re there, or we shouldn’t be there,” Palin posted. She urged Obama to listen to McCain, her 2008 running mate.

The Republican criticism coincided with a New York Times/CBS News poll showing a decrease in support both for Obama’s handling of Libya and his broader foreign policy. The survey found that 39 percent of respondents approved of Obama’s foreign policy, down from 46 percent in a CBS poll a month earlier. There was an even sharper drop-off on Libya; 39 percent of respondents approved of the president’s handling of the situation, down from 50 percent in March.