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Obama on Libya: 'We led from the front'

President Obama said Tuesday the often-repeated idea that the U.S. led from behind in the ouster of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi was incorrect.

"We led from the front," Obama said in a pre-taped interview for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." "We introduced the resolution in the United Nations that allowed us to protect civilians in Libya when Gadhafi was threatening to slaughter them. It was our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our pilots who took out their air defense systems, set up a no-fly zone."

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Many Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), have accused Obama of putting international forces in charge the fighting in Libya. Sen. Marco Rubio said after Gadhafi's death that "the French and the British that lead on this fight."

Because his administration was "able to organize the international community," Obama told Leno, operations in Libya "only cost us a billion dollars" and no U.S. troops were killed or injured.

"That, I think, is a recipe for success in the future," he said.

The president said the nature of Gadhafi's death at the hands of rebel fighters was unfortunate but that it "sends a strong message around the world to dictators."

Gadhafi was killed last week in his hometown of Sirte, an event videotaped and shown on many news outlets.

"Obviously, you never like to see anybody come to the kind of end that he did," Obama said about the deposed leaders final moments. 

Gadhafi's body has been buried in an undisclosed location.

He contrasted the public display of Gadhafi's death to the way the U.S. military and his administration handled the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.


"There was a reason after Bin Laden was killed, for example, we didn't release the photograph," Obama said. "You know, I think that there's a certain decorum with which you treat the dead even if it's somebody who has done terrible things."

Obama also tried to draw a contrast between his foreign policy and the way President George W. Bush began the war in Iraq.

"Americans can rightly be proud that we have given Iraqis an opportunity to determine their own destiny, but I also think that policymakers and future presidents need to understand what it is that we are getting ourselves into when we make some of these decisions," the president said. "And there might have been other ways for us to accomplish those same goals."

Obama announced last week that the U.S. will complete its drawdown of troops by the end of the year, concluding the war in Iraq after almost nine years.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that Obama is imperiling gains made in Iraq by pulling troops out too quickly.

Obama countered that withdrawing troops from Iraq will allow the U.S. to fight more urgent battles.

"One of the arguments I made way back in 2007 was, if we were able to bring the war in Iraq to a close, then that would allow us to go after the folks who perpetrated 9/11, and obviously, we've been very successful in doing that," he said.

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