Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi should have been killed in the early summer, former United Nations spokesman John Bolton said in the wake of his death on Thursday.
The Mad Dog of the Desert, as Ronald Reagan dubbed him, was killed in his hometown of Sirte on the Mediterranean coast the rebels announced.
The United States played a supporting role to France and Britain which led NATO support to the rebels.
Bolton, a strident critic of the Obama administration, said the dictator should have been taken out in much earlier.
“If we had acted swiftly and decisively at the beginning of this thing instead of having it drag out for six months with a much higher toll in civilian deaths, we might have shattered Gadhafi’s government near the beginning of the conflict and brought it to a resolution sooner,” he told Fox News.
“It’s entirely appropriate that Gadhafi was killed this way but as symbolically important as it is, many of the big issues facing Libya remain.” Bolton warned though that some in Libya may now regard the tyrant as a martyr.
“This is certainly not the end of the struggle, it’s the end of Gadhafi – and that’s a good thing,” Bolton added.
But Fox News’ Juan Williams had harsh words for those who were attacking the Obama administration over Libya. “Critics on the right have flip-flopped on these issues from the beginning on whether or not America should have played a role, any role, in supporting the anti-Gadhafi forces.
“Today's events are another reminder of how pure political concerns can blind people to America's best.”
Williams said Gadhafi’s death, following on the heels of those of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, leaves President Barack Obama with a strong hand to play against those who say he is weak on security.
“If you look at the president's use of drones, for example, the decision to keep using Guantanamo Bay to house detainees, these are things that have absolutely antagonized the left in this country.
“But if you're looking at results, you can't argue,” Williams added. “A man who was America's enemy, who was a destabilizing force in the Middle East and a supporter of anti-American forces has been removed from the stage.
“That's good news for America. I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat. This is good news,” Williams added.
Official reaction from the State Department and White House was slow to come as they both struggled to confirm Gadhafi’s death. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said if the reports were true it would "add legitimacy and relief to the formation of a new government" in Libya.
She said that Libya still “has a very steep climb ahead of them, having him out of the picture will give them breathing space.”
Sen. John McCain released a statement saying, “The United States, along with our European allies and Arab partners, must now deepen our support for the Libyan people, as they work to make the next phase of their democratic revolution as successful as the fight to free their country.”
Later the Arizona senator called on the United States to send aid to help the thousands of wounded in Libya. “They’ve got 30,000 wounded and the United States of America could help so much because we have the unique capabilities. We could be sending a hospital ship to Tripoli, we could be transporting some of their severely wounded to our hospital in Germany at Landstuhl, we could be sending in medical personnel.”
“This could have been over a lot earlier if we had used the United States Air assets in the most effective fashion. But this is a victory for the president, the Obama administration, but most importantly the Libyan people’s chance for freedom.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the Republican chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “Tyranny, oppression, and violence defined Gadhafi’s time in power. In addition to his brutal treatment of the Libyan people, he is also responsible for attacks that killed Americans and led to Libya’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. State Department.”
She said Gadhafi’s death “marks a critical moment for the Libyan people to turn their nation away from its grim past as a rogue state and toward a future of freedom marked by alliances with the United States, Israel, European democracies, and other responsible nations.
“Libya’s future must be marked by the establishment of a democratic government which is tolerant, inclusive, and free from extremist influence,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “The Libyan people must seize this opportunity to realize their democratic aspirations and not squander it through factional fighting over the political spoils.
“The new leaders must demonstrate a commitment to working with the U.S., and to securing control over dangerous weapons and rooting out extremist groups."
Ros-Lehtinen said Gadhafi’s fall “gives hope to all those around the world who are oppressed by tyrants.
“These dictators brutalize their own people, endanger global security, and protect one another,” adding, “The will of free people cannot be suppressed forever.”
Details of Gadhafi’s death were confused. The official version from the National Transitional Council said that rebels attacked a house where he was sheltering and he tried to get away.
“He tried to flee and they killed him,” NTC Information Minister Mahmoud Shamman told CNN. “When they met him, he was alive and he was killed in action.
"A new Libya is born today," he said. "This is the day of real liberation. We were serious about giving him a fair trial. It seems God has some other wish."
But Ben Farmer of Britain’s Daily Telegraph, who claims to be the only western newspaper journalist in Sirte said the dictator was cornered in a drain under a road in open countryside to the west of the city.
“Rebels said a column of vehicles tried to punch out of an encirclement at dawn,” reported Farmer. “They parked up around 3-4kms (roughly 3 miles) west of the town, which was hit by a NATO airstrike. Gadhafi and several bodyguards were then forced to take refuge in the drain where they were then captured and taken away by revolutionary forces.”
One rebel soldier said to be involved in the killing told the BBC that Gadhafi yelled “don’t shoot, don’t shoot” as he was discovered. After he was dead the rebels reportedly took off his shoe and beat him around the head with it.
The drain was covered in Arabic-language graffiti which Britain’s Sky News translated as saying, "This is the place where the rat Gadhafi was hiding," and "Contemptible Gadhafi."
The French news agency Agence France Presse circulated a gruesome picture of the dictator clearly either dead or close to death. Al Jazeera showed blurred video of his apparent death.
The rebels say he was shot in the head and both legs and his body was taken to the rebel stronghold of Misrata.
“Gadhafi's body is with our unit in a car and we are taking the body to a secret place for security reasons," Mohamed Abdel Kafi, an NTC official in the city told Reuters.
Gadhafi’s fifth son Mutassim and, former defense minister, Abu Bakr Yunis were also killed according to the NTC and former government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, Gadhafi’s cousin and adviser Ahmed Ibrahim, and aide Mansour Daw were all captured.
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