What McCain doesn’t understand

WHAT MCCAIN DOESN’T UNDERSTAND…. Is this what passes for foreign-policy depth among congressional Republicans?

President Obama’s policy against using military power to unseat Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi could lead to a situation similar to the aftermath of the first Gulf War, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday night.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Gadhafi, the dictatorial leader of Libya whose forces have endured U.S. and allied airstrikes, must have been “somewhat comforted” by Obama’s speech.

“Gadhafi must have been somewhat comforted by that. It was, at least to some degree, counter to the president’s statement that Gadhafi must go,” McCain said on CNN shortly after Obama’s address to the nation.

Actually, what I suspect Gadhafi must have found somewhat comforting is when John McCain stopped by his house a year and a half ago for a lengthy chat, visiting until late in the evening, all as part of a discussion about delivery of American military equipment to the Libyan regime.

If I had to guess, that friendly meeting, after which McCain praised the dictator, was probably pretty “comforting ” to Gadhafi.

On a more substantive note, McCain sees a contradiction — President Obama wants to see Gadhafi’s ouster, but isn’t pursuing a policy of regime change. McCain called this “very puzzling.”

I’m not sure why the senator finds this confusing. It’s really not that complicated — the administration would prefer to see Gadhafi go, and will pursue this through non-military means, but won’t use force to overthrow the regime because it would splinter the international coalition and exceed the legitimacy of the mandate. It would also likely require U.S. ground forces, which isn’t much of an option right now.

As Alan Pyke explained, “President Obama was not, as McCain claimed, ruling out ‘regime change by force’ in general — he was simply saying that the ground forces who eventually force Gaddafi out of Libya ought to be Libyan, and not American.”

What’s “very puzzling” about this?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.