WASHINGTON -- Newt Gingrich, sensing political opportunity in President Barack Obama’s response to the crisis in Libya, attacked the commander-in-chief again Friday for spending time this week picking winners and losers in a college basketball tournament.
Gingrich, a likely GOP presidential contender and former Speaker of the House, has ridiculed Obama for making NCAA Final Four picks all week, but added a new twist to his line of attack Friday morning following remarks at a press conference in which he criticized Obama’s health care overhaul.
The Georgia Republican mocked Obama for following the lead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who with British Prime Minister David Cameron spearheaded the drive at the United Nations Security Council for a resolution, approved Thursday, which authorized the use of force against the government of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
“I was frankly very disappointed that Sarkozy did not share with us his Final Four picks,” Gingrich told reporters. “And I think it’s his failure to understand the importance of the Final Four that allowed him to focus on Libya in a way that, you know, clearly, if he had understood the American system, he would have realized this was not a good week to deal with Libya, because this was the week to deal with Kansas, Ohio State, and things that are really important.”
Conservatives have tweaked Obama’s decision to appear on ESPN in a nine-minute segment where, inside the White House, he detailed his picks in the 68-team tournament. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus slammed Obama on Twitter. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended the choice to spend time on the March Madness bracket as “appropriate.”
The bracket criticism has become an easy reference for conservatives who believe the United States has been timid in the face of Gaddafi’s brutal suppression of an uprising inside his country.
Gingrich, who took the first step this month toward a bid for the Oval Office, has been the most outspoken of the likely GOP candidates. His new comments came hours before Obama was set to address the nation about what role the United States will play in the international response to Libya.
Gingrich, who has made comments indicating that Gaddafi may be hard to push out, said he believes it is still possible for the dictator to be removed from power.
“It’s never too late when you’re dealing with a small dictator. They can get rid of Gaddafi,” he said.
But he leveled his primary criticism at the White House's slowness to act even after Obama’s statement on March 3 that Gaddafi needed to “step down and leave.”
“There are a lot of ways to get rid of a dictator, if you want to. But this idea that we posture, we talk, we have diplomatic meetings -- it’s been 30-some days since this started,” Gingrich said. “It makes us look weak and uncertain.”
Pressed for things he would have done differently in the president's position, Gingrich listed only one.
“You start by communicating to the military that he’s going to be gone and that they should be on your side. And in a lot of cases, the military goes, ‘Got it, we’re with you guys.’ And they’re gone. It’s happened a number of times around the world,” he said.
Gingrich refrained from providing further specifics.
“You ought to study Eisenhower and Reagan,” he said. “There are lots of ways to not necessarily use American troops that have enormous impact on a country the size of Libya.”