As President Obama faces criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over his Libya policy, he is also finding support in surprising corners.
One of the strongest congressional backers of the president’s handling of Libya is Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a conservative Republican in his second term.
In a phone interview, Hunter, a Marine captain who served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, offered unswerving praise for Obama’s decision to intervene and suggested critics of the policy were “politicizing” the issue.
“I agree with the president. I agree with what he’s done so far on his use of force. I agree on his timing. I agree on the fact that he went in with a coalition,” Hunter said.
A member of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter defended the president against criticism that his deployment of military forces to Libya but not to other Middle Eastern countries where violence has broken out, like Bahrain, was inconsistent and demonstrated a lack of a clear foreign policy vision in the region.
“I don’t think that every time we interject ourselves into the slaughter of innocents like we are here that we have to match that to a consistent foreign policy or a consistent end-state like a lot of the president’s detractors are saying right now,” he said.
“This is a situation that’s different from every other situation. It’s got its own nuances to it, and I think it’s one where the president made the right decision,” Hunter said.
Hunter also differed from critics who said Obama should not have gone in without a clear endgame. He likened the situation to someone breaking up a fight in the street while letting others carry out the prosecution of the perpetrator.
“There isn’t always a perfect end-state,” the congressman said.
Hunter took office in 2009 after running to succeed his father, who had served as chairman of the Armed Services Committee before making a failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.
The younger Hunter said his one criticism of Obama’s Libya policy was that the president spoke “too freely” of wanting to remove Col. Moammar Gadhafi, creating confusion about whether the U.S. military mission’s was to do so. He said he backed Obama’s limited intervention and warned that he would “disagree completely” if the president deployed ground troops, which he has pledged not to do.
Hunter acknowledged his was a rare voice of support for Obama’s handling of the crisis.
“I think I disagree with just about everybody,” he said with a laugh. “Everybody’s taking their potshots at him, but what else are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to sit back and do nothing?”
He chalked up much of the congressional criticism to “politicizing” and said members of Congress “like to have their egos assuaged or petted.”
More consultation from the president “would have been nice, but it’s not necessary,” Hunter said.
Moreover, he said, the mission appeared to be succeeding in its early days.
“Without a lot of effort, we’ve managed to take out Gadhafi’s armor and his air. That’s a pretty good licking for one week of combat operations. We’re not going to war,” Hunter said.
“We’re just working with the international community to make sure a terrorist dictator doesn’t slaughter any more of his own people.”