(CNN) — Nisreen lies listless curled under a blanket, an armed rebel guard at her door.
She looks vulnerable, and younger than her age – 19. She has soft features, a heart-shaped face, large brown eyes and full lips.
She speaks haltingly, often falling into a tortured silence, unable to verbalize her thoughts and emotions as haunting images of what she did play out like a curse in her mind.
“One of them had facial hair, like this.” She gestures in the shape of a goatee around her mouth, recalling the face of one of the young men she shot dead.
Nisreen became an executioner for Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. She admits she murdered 11 rebels, all prisoners of the Gadhafi regime. (CNN is not identifying Nisreen with her full name because of her experiences in Gadhafi’s all-female brigade.)
“They brought one person in at a time and they said shoot him,” she tells us, her voice quiet, her words chilling. “There was someone on either side of me and one behind and they said if you don’t shoot we will shoot you.”
She pauses, sliding back into that horrific moment.
“I would turn my head away and shoot. I saw the blood dripping, it just kept flowing.”
She says she was told the rebels wanted to rape women and pillage the capital.
Nisreen was a member of the female unit of Gadhafi’s popular militia. She says she was forcibly taken from her mother – who is battling cancer – by the head of the unit, a family friend. She says the two argued, about what she doesn’t know. That was around a year ago.
She was trained to handle weapons and then kept by her commander at the headquarters of the 77th Brigade, right next to Gadhafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound. She and the hundreds of other women who made up her unit were kept isolated, cut off from their families.
Some of the women with her were ardent supporters of the regime. She says she wasn’t, but she couldn’t leave.
“My brother came and tried to get me out,” she says, but he was threatened and told to leave.
When the uprising began in February, she says her female leader summoned her to see the 77th Brigade commander. He raped her.
“I screamed,” she tells us. It made no difference. She was summoned twice again and raped by two other commanders. Her leader told her she had to bear it.
She says all the women in her unit were raped, but they were forbidden to speak about it.
As the rebels closed in on Tripoli, she and two other young women were assigned to the Bousalim neighborhood, where some of the heaviest fighting was taking place. It was there that she was forced to be an executioner.
“They were all so young,” she says of her victims before sliding into yet another heavy, burdened silence.
She escaped by jumping out of a second-story window as a firefight erupted behind her. She was captured by rebel fighters and brought to the hospital.
Although the rebels plan to put her on trial, many of them seem to pity her, as do the hospital staff.
One of her doctors, Nadia Benyounis, says she was speechless when she first heard about her case.
“When I saw her, I thought that she looked like a kid. Her face is so young, innocent, totally innocent,” she says. “She lost her life.”
“She was manipulated by Gadhafi forces, unfortunately. Gadhafi manipulated us all.”
Benyounis says Nisreen was robbed of everything — her dignity, her self-worth, her family — and turned into a killer.
“She is silent all the time.” Benyounis tells us. “I watch her closely, she tries to sleep all the time to escape from this reality.”
But there is no escape.
Nisreen’s mother is in Tunisia getting cancer treatment. Nisreen says they spoke on the phone and she told her everthing. “My mother was very upset,” she says.
Her father doesn’t know. The family fears he is too ill to bear the news.
Her eyes well with tears.
“All I want is to go home,” she says. “I want my mother.”
(CNN) — Two survivors of the casino fire that killed 52 people in the Mexican city of Monterrey last week cast doubt on authorities’ description of what happened, saying gunmen opened fire on gamblers inside before setting the building ablaze.
Police have arrested five suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel in connection with Thursday’s torching of the Casino Royale in Monterrey. The men told investigators they carried out the attack because the owners of the casino had not complied with their extortion demands, according to Adrian de la Garza, the attorney general of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon.
“The people were not the target, it was the casino,” de la Garza said Tuesday. “It was a chaotic situation that got out of control.” He said the alleged arsonists shouted at patrons to leave the casino as they set it on fire.
But two women who escaped the inferno told CNN the gunmen who stormed the gambling hall targeted patrons with guns and grenades before the fire started. One of the men told them, “We’re going to kill all of you,” one of the women recounted.
“They didn’t come asking for anyone. They came in harassing the people, shouting nasty things at us,” she said. “At that point, my girlfriend said, ‘Let’s run, let’s get out of here or they’re going to kill us.’ Everything was out of control.”
Both women asked to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety. But they said the attackers shot people and slot machines alike when they entered, and said the ordeal lasted for several minutes before police arrived.
The second woman said the men wore ski masks, and that a different group set the blaze.
“I didn’t see the guys outside who poured the gasoline,” she said. “That happened after the shooting inside. That was the last thing that happened. The guys outside were not the same ones who threw grenades inside.”
The women had gone to the casino to celebrate a friend’s 26th birthday, they said. They ended up fleeing out an emergency exit after finding some of the emergency doors locked. One said there were five or six gunmen, another put the number at eight or nine.
Authorities originally reported the deaths as a grenade attack, but later said the attackers had poured gasoline on the building and set it ablaze.
Authorities are looking for seven additional people who were involved, de la Garza said. Police are also searching for the majority owner of the Casino Royale, Raul Rocha Cantu, who is believed to have fled to the United States, de la Garza said.
The five men in custody were paraded in front of the media on Tuesday, each wearing a red vest emblazoned with the word “detainee.” They were identified as Luis Carlos Carrazco Espinosa, 25; Javier Alonso Martinez Morales, alias “el Javo,” 37; Jonathan Jahir Reyna Gutierrez, 18; Juan Angel Leal Flores, 20; and Julio Tadeo Berrones, 28, alias “El Julio Rayas.”
Some of the suspects were directly involved in the fire, while others were accomplices, Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina said. The cartel members had backgrounds that included kidnapping and homicide, he said.
“We’re talking about unscrupulous people who had already committed crimes of high damage to society,” he said.
Video from a gas station and the casino provided evidence that the suspects used gasoline as an accelerant at the casino, the officials said. The version of events was corroborated through phone conversations the suspects had and their own confessions, they said.
Police identified the suspects as being from Monterrey, but one of the survivors said at least some of them had a distinct accent from Sinaloa, on the Pacific coast. She said she does not trust local or state police, and while federal authorities promise to investigate, “nothing ever happens.”
“I adore my state. I love my country,” she said. But she added, “This is not the city I grew up in.
“You learn not to live here, but how to survive,” she said.
The massive fire and number of deaths shook the core of Monterrey, Mexico’s wealthiest city and a key industrial hub. The city has been no stranger to the drug violence that has plagued northern Mexico, but the toll of the casino attack drew national attention in a country where headlines routinely describe brutal crimes.
“It’s urgent to punish the guilty and avoid more attacks,” the city’s Business Coordination Council said. The council provided a list of steps the city could take, including strengthening police and passing national security laws that go after money laundering,
“We cannot wait any longer, even if it is election season,” the group said.
Another citizens’ group in Monterrey, the National Citizen Security, Justice and Legality Observatory, called on the federal government “to combat crime at all levels.”
“We repudiate violence. We want peace and justice,” the group said.
Since 2008, the government has stepped up the military’s presence in Nuevo Leon as it tries to crack down on crime. It sent more troops to the state last November.
On Saturday, 300 soldiers from the Mexican Army and Air Force boarded planes in the nation’s capital, bound for Monterrey as part of President Felipe Calderon’s plan to help local authorities fight drug trafficking and organized crime, Mexico’s defense department said.
More than 34,600 people have died since Calderon announced a crackdown on cartels in December 2006, according to government statistics. Other reports have listed higher tolls. The latest Mexican government tally was released in January.
An arson attack on a casino in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey has killed at least 53 people.
Several gunmen burst into the building in broad daylight, dousing it with fuel and setting it alight.
Amid the panic, many people were trapped and overcome by smoke.
Officials suspect organised crime was behind the attack, one of the deadliest since President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on the cartels in December 2006.
In a tweet, Mr Calderon said the attack was “an abhorrent act of terror and barbarism” that requires “all of us to persevere in the fight against these unscrupulous criminal bands.”
(CNN) — At least seven people have been killed and many more injured in a bombing Friday at the U.N. building in the center of the Nigerian capital, Abuja, witnesses say.
Journalist Alkasim Abdulkadir, in Abuja, told CNN he had seen seven bodies brought into the National Hospital by Red Cross officials. He had also seen many people with injuries, he said.
A representative for the National Hospital in Abuja said it was treating “many casualties, lots of them seriously injured” from U.N. building.
The hospital has called in all doctors and nurses who were not working on Friday to deal with the emergency, the spokesman said, as ambulances kept bringing people in.
Bomb squad officers and other security teams were sent to the scene, deputy police spokesman Yemi Ajayi said.
Alessandra Vellucci at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland confirmed that the “U.N. premises in Abuja have been bombed” but was unable to give more details.
Eyewitnesses in the U.N. building told CNN there was an explosion, then an internal wall fell on some people, causing several casualties. Many of those injured have been taken to hospital, the witnesses said.
Earlier, journalist Abdulkadir said he could see Red Cross officials trying to pull people from the debris.
He said it appeared that a car bomb had gone off at the front of the building, causing a wall to cave in.
He said the area was not very busy because it was a diplomatic district, with the Liberian and U.S.embassies nearby, but that there were people working there.
Zoran Jovanovic, head of mission for the International Red Cross in Abuja, said an explosion was heard at 10:15 a.m. local time.
It is not yet clear who was responsible for the bombing.
Other recent attacks in the city have been blamed on militant Islamists, including a car bomb that was detonated at the Nigerian police headquarters, killing several people including the bomber.
CNN’s Christian Purefoy, Ben Brumfield, Stephanie Halasz and Claudia Rebaza contributed to this report.
Hurricane Irene has grown to category three force as it barrels towards the east coast of the United States.
Irene is now packing winds of 120 mph (193km/h) near the Bahamas, and the storm could reach the US mainland by the end of the week.
Tourists are being evacuated from an island off North Carolina and people are already stocking up on supplies in coastal areas of the US state.
The huge storm has brought flooding and power cuts across the Caribbean.
Federal officials have warned it could do the same along the US east coast as far north as Maine, even if it stays offshore.
Irene may strengthen
On Wednesday afternoon, Irene was about 250 miles south-east of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, and crawling north-east at about 12mph.
24 August 2011 Last updated at 11:46 ET Help
A group of foreign journalists who had been forced to stay inside Tripoli’s Rixos hotel, under armed guard, have now been allowed to leave.
Dozens of journalists had been trapped inside the hotel for five days as gunmen loyal to Col Gaddafi roamed hallways restricting their movements.
The BBC’s Matthew Price was one of those trapped in the hotel. He said there were times when journalists feared the worst.
The United States is on a high alert as Hurricane Irene builds momentum along its path from the Caribbean towards the US east coast.
“We’re going to have a very large tropical cyclone move up the eastern seaboard over the next five to seven days,” Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center, said on Wednesday.
But Read said it was too early to be certain where Irene would hit the coastline.
Latest data showed the hurricane strengthening back into a category two storm as it moved closer to the Bahamas on Wednesday.
Irene had top wind speeds of 155 km per hour and was 650km southeast of Nassau, the Bahamas’ capital.
It was expected to strengthen further before approaching the North Carolina coast at the weekend, forecasters said.
Major eastern cities like Washington and New York could feel some impact, the forecast indicated.
However, they said Irene posed no threat to US oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico.
Washington, New York and other US cities are already feeling the effects of a magnitude 5.8 earthquake which struck the US east coast on Tuesday.
Irene is the ninth named storm of the busy June-through-November season and has already been blamed for one death in Puerto Rico.
It looks set to be the first hurricane to hit the US since Ike pounded the Texas coast in 2008.
Irene could disrupt a ceremony scheduled for Sunday to unveil a new memorial honouring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr on Washington’s National Mall.
Tens of thousands of people, including US President Barack Obama, are expected to attend.
The hurricane has already hit the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeast Bahamas with winds, rain and a dangerous storm surge.
Authorities in these areas closed airports, and banks and supermarkets shut their doors.
Government spokeswoman Andrea Been said storm surges and high waves would affect the islands into the night on Tuesday, while officials said high winds felled power lines and debris littered the streets of Providenciales.
“I pray God’s blessing on us all,” Hubert Ingraham, the Bahamas’ prime minister, said as he urged residents to take shelter.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities said more than 11,000 people were evacuated to shelter before the storm winds brushed the island’s north coast Monday night.
Quake-ravaged Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, was largely spared by the storm, although some mudslides were reported near the northern coast.
- NEW: CNN’s Matthew Chance at the hotel warns other journalists not to come
- About 35 journalists, including from CNN, are trapped there
- They prowl the hall ways with giant paintings of Moammar Gadhafi staring down at them
- They sleep in hallways to avoid whizzing bullets
Tripoli, Libya (CNN) — In its halcyon days, the Rixos hotel in Tripoli boasted of going the extra mile to make guests “feel privileged.” It sent flowers and cooled towels to their rooms, and made Porsches and Jaguars — even helicopters — available at a moment’s notice.
But by early Wednesday, the remaining guests at the luxury hotel in the Libyan capital were reduced to raiding cabinets for cheese and fruit.
About 35 journalists who were allowed into the North African country to cover the conflict with the blessing of the Moammar Gadhafi regime are trapped at the hotel for a fifth day.
And about five more journalists covering clashes in the area fled into the hotel Wednesday morning and were briefly barred from leaving, said CNN’s Jomana Karadsheh, who is among those at the hotel. Four were later allowed to go, she saw.
By ALEXANDER BURNS & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN | 8/23/11 4:30 AM EDT
Once again, there will be no flight suit photo op or “Mission Accomplished” banner for Barack Obama.
The ouster of Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi represents yet another military victory for a president long cast as a gun-shy liberal uncomfortable with the use of force. But while Obama has claimed credit for his individual successes — and has mentioned the killing of Osama bin Laden at campaign events — he has never fully embraced the role of a president at war.
Despite defining moments that include the NATO-led air assault on Libya, the decision to increase troop strength in Afghanistan and the daring special forces raid that killed bin Laden, Obama and his advisers still appear almost resigned to the fact that it will be the economy, not his national security record, that defines his presidency and his fight for reelection.
“The big picture with President Obama is that he demonstrates that a civilian without military experience can be an exceptional commander in chief,” said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat who served on the 9/11 Commission.
But Kerrey, a Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, noted that Obama “doesn’t particularly define himself as a war president because he’s trying to shift attention to issues that are, in the long term, a lot more important.”
Obama’s statement Monday on the collapse of the Qadhafi regime was a case in point. The president applauded the efforts of the Libyan people, but declined to plant the rhetorical equivalent of an American flag on Tripoli and repeatedly emphasized that the situation there remained “fluid.”
Addressing reporters on Martha’s Vineyard, White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused even to say if the president’s approach to Libya had been vindicated, insisting that he wasn’t going to “play political pundit and sort of assess the winners and losers here.”
The closest thing to a White House victory lap came from National Security Council official Ben Rhodes, who told POLITICO that the latest turn of events in North Africa “reinforces that the approach we took on Libya was the right one.”
The situation in Libya was often described as a stalemate, but Rhodes said the U.S.-NATO mission effectively made “time work against Qadhafi,” with the deadlocked struggle gradually shifting in the direction of the Libyan rebellion.
“We have a strong record across the board, whether it is taking the fight to Al Qaeda, taking on Osama bin Laden, winding down the war in Iraq, turning the corner in Afghanistan and helping lead an international effort to prevent a massacre in Libya and to support the Libyan people as they brought an end to the Qadhafi regime,” Rhodes said.
He continued: “This is one more piece of a record that he has been building on national security that makes a very strong case about his ability to keep the American people safe and advance our interests around the world.”
That’s a case that Democrats acknowledge — with some frustration — hasn’t been made as aggressively as they think it could have been over the past two years.
With all the obligatory caveats about not wanting to repeat former President George W. Bush’s triumphalist landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, some members of Obama’s party express frustration that the president doesn’t get more credit for a defense record that makes even some neoconservative Republicans nod with approval.
It’s an unexpected electoral asset for Obama, whose 2008 presidential campaign took flight in large part thanks to his record of opposing the initial invasion of Iraq. Now, the interventionist wing of the Democratic Party, which tends to fare better in presidential elections, claims him as one of their own.
Former California Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat whose support for the Iraq War earned her the enmity of the left, said Obama “has actually, in many ways, been tougher on counterterrorism than President Bush was, and I don’t think that’s widely understood.”
“He has stepped up and defined himself in that way, and I think the takedown of Osama bin Laden was probably the high point of his presidency,” Harman said. “I don’t know if everyone’s caught up with that, but that’s the camp he’s been in.”
The fact that Obama’s military accomplishments don’t define his presidency, however, is not an accident.
A large part of the disconnect between Obama’s record and his reputation is a result of circumstance. With unemployment over 9 percent, most voters aren’t paying close attention to foreign policy and national security.
The ones who are may approve of Obama’s performance, but not enough to offset the perception that he’s flailing when it comes to the economy.
A Gallup Poll released last week gave Obama a 53 percent approval rating on handling terrorism and only a 40 percent disapproval rating. On foreign affairs in general, he earned approval from 42 percent of respondents and disapproval from 51 percent.
But with his positive ratings on the economy at a mere 26 percent, Obama’s overall job approval was hovering around the 40 percent mark — a perilous point for any incumbent president.
Neera Tanden, COO of the liberal Center for American Progress, said that “in normal times,” voters would reward Obama for the Libya operation, as well as his handling of the war in Iraq.
“In these times, voters may be more focused here at home than in the success of interventions abroad,” Tanden said. “The fact that he made these decisions, knowing that possibility, makes his decisions, especially in Libya, all the more courageous.”
Other Democrats say that the White House’s general tendency toward caution, coupled with the high level of uncertainty that still surrounds the situation in Libya, may make for an especially unsatisfying political payoff.
“On the one hand, it’s in part because the economy … has been and continues to be issue No. 1,” said former Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney, who added: “It does not seem that the administration has done a good job as they could have in talking about the president’s leadership style.”
One Democratic official called the last few days of action in Libya a “major validation of the president’s Libya strategy,” but worried: “With the administration seemingly hesitant to pat itself on the back, given the uncertainty of what happens next in Libya, and with the economy big-footing all other issues, the president will probably once again reap far less credit than he deserves.”
That’s not to say that the president’s team is unaware of the political implications of a victory in Libya, if that’s what Qadhafi’s collapse turns out to be.
At the very least, Obama backers say, the end of the stalemate in Libya and Qadhafi’s apparent defeat should defang Republican attacks on the president for “leading from behind” in the conflict.
On Monday, Obama aides were relishing the opportunity to email each other clips from attacks launched against the White House Libya policy since the start of the year by his possible GOP opponents, especially from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said of Obama: “He just has been like a deer in the headlights, not understanding what it takes to put people back to work and even foreign policy; he’s gone from guardrail to guardrail in Libya and Syria.”
Then there was Rick Perry, the Texas governor, who attempted to draw a contrast between himself and the president by saying that in a Perry administration: “If you’re our enemy, we’re not going to just give you some lip service. If you try to hurt the United States, we will come defeat you.”
“There have obviously been a lot of doubters and naysayers along the way, but the results speak for themselves,” said Democratic Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who praised Obama for showing “skill and steadfastness and smarts once again on an important national security question.”
A Democratic operative closely allied with the president was more pointed on the GOP field: “I guess now these guys just don’t have anything to attack him on.”
Even if that optimistic prediction holds true, Obama allies concede that he is unlikely to get a polling bounce from the Libya operation as he did — albeit temporarily — after the death of bin Laden. A positive impression of Obama as a war leader won’t eclipse voters’ concerns about issues like unemployment any time soon, one Obama supporter said.
But Dan Schnur, former adviser to Sen. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign, said it’s possible Obama will get some kind of lift from the outcome in Libya.
“Few Americans can find Libya on a map, but they do know their way to the corner gas station,” said Schnur, who directs the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “Bin Laden and Qadhafi offer Obama a couple of compelling national security talking points to protect against GOP criticism. But a little relief for an automotive electorate isn’t such a bad thing, either.”
Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman contributed to this report.
By ALEXANDER BURNS | 8/22/11 6:39 PM EDT
It’s the 2012 Republican field’s first real moment in the foreign policy spotlight — the dilemma over how to respond to the apparent success of President Barack Obama’s intervention in Libya.
So far, the strategy for nearly all the candidates is: don’t.
For the most part, the GOP has offered only a slow and muted response to the collapse of Muammar Qadhafi’s regime, which seems to spell the end of a dictator who has plagued the United States for decades.
The only candidate to lay out a clear position on whether the NATO-led Libya mission was a good idea is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who said through a spokesman that he still believes the mission was “not core to our national security interest.”
The others who have spoken have issued only carefully parsed statements, applauding Qadhafi’s demise but stopping short of passing judgment on the months-long mission that led to his downfall.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the end of Qadhafi’s “violent, repressive dictatorship” a “cause for cautious celebration.” But his ginger, forward-looking statement didn’t offer a larger view of the action in Libya and didn’t mention either President Obama or NATO.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney also responded with something of a dodge, simply noting that “the world is about to be rid” of Qadhafi and calling on the new Libyan government to hand over the mastermind of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing — an issue that might have some domestic resonance but is scarcely linked to events in Tripoli.
It’s questionable whether Republicans will be able to hold Libya at arm’s length for long. The United States is now involved in deciding the fate of the North African nation, and it’s all but inevitable that would-be commanders-in-chief will have to say whether or not they think that’s a good thing.
The political stakes are lower than the substantive ones. Few believe the 2012 election — let alone the GOP primaries — will hinge on foreign affairs. But the Libya operation promises to sort the Republican contenders in policy terms in a way that no other event has done, to date.
To some conservative foreign policy thinkers, the right response — politically and substantively — is to go further than Perry and Romney, applaud the outcome in Libya and call for more of the same.
Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol offered this response as the right tack for a GOP hopeful: “Congratulations to the president, our NATO allies and above all to the brave people of Libya. Now let’s help the brave people of Syria make the Assad regime the next to go — and soon.”
Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and adviser to Tim Pawlenty’s campaign, said Republicans shouldn’t let Obama off the hook for moving so slowly into military action.
But he, too, urged Republicans to look to the next challenge — and not back away from foreign engagement.
“We need to hold Obama responsible for a Libya policy that not only weakened NATO but prolonged the war and the bloodshed,” Hook said. “But now, we all need to turn the page and focus on the difficult transition that Libya will need to make out of a civil war, and we need to be providing as much assistance as we can to make that possible.”
There are only a few candidates in the field, though, who can plausibly make that argument, which lines up with the aggressive, nation-building foreign policy championed by former President George W. Bush. The hawkish Pawlenty would have been one of them.
Among the remaining candidates, both Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum rebuked the Obama administration for not acting swiftly enough in Libya and deferring too much to U.S. allies in Europe. The two candidates might have to walk back their criticism a bit, if the mission proves a true success.
Neither of them expressed flat-out opposition to the idea of intervening in Libya. Instead, they urged the administration to take more “decisive action against [Qadhafi],” as Santorum put it in an April foreign policy address.
Romney knocked Obama for not having a “clear and convincing foreign policy” on Libya but never came close to saying that he was opposed to the mission.
But at least three Republican presidential candidates have done just that: Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, the libertarian Texas congressman who has a lengthy record of opposing American military action abroad.
Paul can be reliably counted on to stick to his isolationist guns; it was little more than a week ago at the Ames straw poll that he once again called for the United States to bring its troops home.
Bachmann and Huntsman face a potentially tougher challenge as they explain their resistance to an intervention that — for the moment — looks to have achieved its main goal.
Huntsman’s decision to stand by that position is consistent with his general campaign approach, which has involved staking out a series of positions dramatically at odds with much of his own party.
But Bachmann, despite her place on the opposite end from Huntsman on the Republican ideological spectrum, was more or less in sync with Huntsman when she was asked about the Libya mission at a debate in June.
The Minnesota congresswoman said flatly that there was “no vital national interest” in Libya, explaining: “We were not attacked. We were not threatened with attack.”
And she expressed concern about potential instability stemming from the Libyan rebellion, warning that Qadhafi’s fall could also “empower Al Qaeda of North Africa and Libya.”
She reiterated her hesitancy about the intervention on Monday, saying in a hedged statement that while she hopes the outcome in Libya is for the best, she also “opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya, and I am hopeful that our intervention there is about to end.”
The pure politics of the Libya mission are unclear. While voters started out supportive of the mission, a June Gallup Poll showed that only 39 percent of voters approved of the U.S. action against Libya, compared with 46 percent who disapproved.
Among Republicans, those numbers were almost exactly the same: 39 percent approving, 47 percent disapproving.
One Republican policy thinker supportive of intervention acknowledged: “Americans are tired of foreign entanglements, and their focus is rightly elsewhere.”
But while Americans may be tired of foreign wars, they may be inclined to welcome something like a positive outcome in Libya.
In a frustrating accident of timing for his supporters, it’s Pawlenty — the former Minnesota governor who recently dropped out of the race — who would have had the easiest time reacting to Qadhafi’s fall.
Of all the Republican candidates, Pawlenty had the clearest, most unequivocal and hawkish view of military policy, having called early for a no-fly zone over Libya and Qadhafi’s ouster. He also spoke in Kristol-esque terms about the need to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Pawlenty ended his presidential campaign on Aug. 14, the day after coming in third at the Iowa straw poll, behind the staunchly anti-interventionist Bachmann and Paul.