MCCAIN RETURNS TO LIBYA — UNDER VERY DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES…. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday became the highest profile U.S. official to visit Libya since international military intervention began, and gave a hearty endorsement to the rebels fighting the Gadhafi government.

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee made the remark after arriving in Benghazi, a city that has been the opposition capital in the rebel-held eastern Libya.

McCain said he was in Benghazi “to get an on the ground assessment of the situation” and planned to meet with the rebel National Transition Council, the de-facto government in the eastern half of the country, and members of the rebel military.

“They are my heroes,” McCain said of the rebels as he walked out of a local hotel in Benghazi. He was traveling in an armored Mercedes jeep and had a security detail. A few Libyans waved American flags as his vehicle drove past.

The Republican senator, who traveled with a large security detail and moved around in a heavily armored jeep, later called his visit “one of the most exciting and inspiring days of my life.”

McCain, not surprisingly, also endorsed expanded international support for the rebels, including “recognizing the Transitional National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people,” and transferring frozen Libyan assets to rebel control. (thanks to V.S.)

There are two angles to keep in mind here. The first is that McCain may not have fully thought this through. Libyan rebels are broken up into factions that don’t always agree with one another, don’t have a formal leadership, and don’t have a formal military command structure. McCain’s rhetoric no doubt makes him feel better, but it’s more complicated than just having the United State “recognize” factionalized rebels as a legitimate foreign government and giving them billions of dollars.

The second is that McCain’s last visit to Libya was very different, and it’s amazing that U.S. media outlets reporting on his remarks yesterday are pretending this other visit never occurred. It was just 18 months ago that McCain traveled to Libya and cozied up to Gadhafi, visiting with him at the dictator’s home in Tripoli, shaking his hand, and even bowing a little to Gadhafi. The point of the meeting was for McCain to discuss delivery of American military equipment to the Libyan regime.

I guess the rebels didn’t hear about this? And that American media outlets simply forgot it happened?

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.