U.S. lawmakers reacted with relief to reports of the death of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, saying his demise means the people of Libya are truly liberated and that they can now focus on a new beginning. Congressional leaders also pledged their continued support for the Libyan people in caring for the wounded and rebuilding.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona joined a number of other U.S lawmakers in praising the LIbyan people for fighting for their freedom, and the NATO mission for helping them achieve their goals.
"I am glad we are rid of Gadhafi. I would have preferred to see him in criminal court, but he is gone, and that is to the great credit of the Libyan people, to the administration and especially the leadership of the French and the British," McCain said.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator McCain recently traveled to Libya. Graham said Gadhafi was still casting a shadow over the Libyan people.
"Having been there just a few weeks ago, the thought of Gadhafi being alive and coming back was widespread and created fear and pretty much a stalemate. Now that he is dead I think the Libyan people will have a chance to move forward," Graham said.
Both senators agreed that the United States should continue to provide support for the people of Libya, saying 30,000 people were wounded in the uprising to oust Gadhafi, and many of them lost limbs. They said the United States should send Navy hospital ships to help treat the injured.
Senators McCain and Graham supported President Barack Obama's decision to intervene in Libya, but criticized him for not deploying more American airpower. Senator McCain indicated some of the injuries suffered might have been prevented by swifter and tougher action against Gadhafi's forces:
"When I go to the hospital and I see these wounded young men who are missing arms and legs, and I know that if we had used the full weight of American air power to end this thing a lot sooner, I regret that we, quote, chose to "lead from behind," McCain said.
Democratic Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, strongly defended the president's decision to let other NATO countries take the lead after the start of the air campaign over Libya. In a written statement, Kerry said although the Obama administration was criticized both for moving too quickly and for not moving quickly enough, it is undeniable that the NATO campaign prevented a massacre and contributed mightily to Gadhafi’s undoing without deploying boots on the ground or suffering a single American fatality. Kerry said this is a victory for multilateralism and successful coalition-building.
Some lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, had criticized President Obama for intervening in Libya, and faulted him for not seeking congressional approval for the U.S. military operation.
President Obama said Thursday was a momentous day for Libya, and credited the people of Libya with winning their revolution. He said with the promise of a new beginning comes great responsibility to build a tolerant and democratic society.