President Barack Obama was careful not to gloat in his statement Thursday addressing Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's death.
In a Rose Garden appearance, the president said: Our skilled diplomats have helped to lead an unprecedented global response. Our brave pilots have flown in Libya's skies, our sailors have provided support off Libya's shores, and our leadership at NATO has helped guide our coalition. Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end.
Obama remained noted the fall of a tyranny and the hopeful, but difficult future for the Libyan people. Despite seeming vindicated for his intervention in the conflict, he did not dwell on his foreign policy decisions.
This is not a day for politics, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the Rose Garden. The president simply believes the action he took, that this administration took, in working with our allies, working with NATO, working with our partners in the Arab world, was the right action for Libya.
Obama's Involvement Leading from Behind
Last spring, Obama made the decision to let NATO allies, particularly the British and French, take the lead in helping the Libyan rebels. Obama received criticism from all directions. Some called U.S. action too little, too late, while others questioned his authority to use military force and feared a deeper American involvement.
Obama rejected the criticism from both sides, choosing instead to lead from behind.
Robert Gates, still defense secretary when the involvement began, was reluctant to engage in any Libyan conflict. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for action, but Obama sent no ground troops in. Instead, he, along with NATO allies, provided air and naval support.
Despite Obama's reluctance to address his involvement and decision-making in the Libyan conflict, the loquacious Vice President Joe Biden was quick to take credit.
NATO got it right, Biden told the Associated Press in New Hampshire. In this case, America spent $2 billion and didn't lose a single life. This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has in the past.
GOP Response to Gadhafi's Death
Presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, along with many other Republican figures, have been critical of Obama's policy decisions in Libya.
Thursday, however, Romney seemed to shy away from his previous criticisms. When asked, as he was leaving the Council Bluffs, Iowa, Chamber of Commerce, if he thought Obama deserved some credit for Gadhafi's death, Romney said, Yes. Yes, absolutely, ABC News reports.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's opponent in the 2008 election, told Fox News: This is a victory for the president, for the Obama administration.
The death of Moammar Gadhafi is good news for the people of Libya. It should bring the end of conflict there, and help them move closer to elections and a real democracy, Perry told CBS News.
The GOP seems to admit that the Obama administration was successful in its involvement in Libya, but is it too soon to tell how it will affect the 2012 election.
Red, White and Gadhafi?
While 2011 marks the death of two notorious terrorists, Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi, it is still unclear how Obama's involvement in these events will affect his re-election chances. The Democratic Party is divided on foreign military involvements, and the GOP will be quick to talk up any of Obama's mistakes. Still, the president's success withdrawing troops from Iraq should bode in his favor, while the war in Afghanistan drags on inconclusively.
Gadhafi's death has also raised speculation about the Obama administration's policy decisions for the future, sparking hope among some Americans for a successful new model of military intervention, which could potentially be used in Syria against Bashar al-Assad.
Former NATO Commander Wesley Clark told CNN that a similar approach could be used in Syria, but that every country must be approached slightly differently.
Syria is going to be different from Libya, but it shows NATO is capable of a sustained effort, he said.
The 2012 election will certainly focus on the economy, jobs, and the growing U.S. debt, but Obama's foreign policy decisions will color perceptions of his effectiveness and strength of character. One thing's for sure - GOP candidates won't have much ground to stand on if they attack Obama's policies on the war on terror.