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Senators responded cautiously today to the news that former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had been killed, praising U.S. leadership while cautioning the international community about the next diplomatic steps in Libya's battle for free government.
Since the Obama administration announced that it would assist NATO in engaging militarily in Libya last March, Congress has been supportive of the overall mission to overthrow Gadhafi. Differences arose over military strategy and how much the White House involved Congress in foreign policy decisions.
Top lawmakers today offered praise for the Libyan people, while questioning what's next for the embattled and transitioning African nation.
"The end of the Moammar Gadhafi era is a victory for the people of Libya. The success of the Libyan people in rising up to overthrow a tyrant is a blow against dictatorship everywhere," Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said, before commending the United States for building a coalition with the United Nations and the Arab League in assisting the Libyan rebels.
Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain (Ariz.) was one of the first lawmakers to weigh in on the news of Gadhafi's reported death today. McCain has been one of the most ardent supporters of American involvement in Libya on Capitol Hill, even calling for increased U.S. involvement at the mission's start and questioning why America was only taking a supporting role in NATO involvement.
In April, McCain was one of the first high-status American officials to visit the rebel city of Benghazi, calling the rebels "heroes," and has traveled again to the region since then.
Today he called Gadhafi's death a marker of the end of the "first phase of the Libyan revolution" and challenged the administration and European allies to work toward helping Libyans build a better government.
"While some final fighting continues, the Libyan people have liberated their country," McCain said. "Now the Libyan people can focus all of their immense talents on strengthening their national unity, rebuilding their country and economy, proceeding with their democratic transition and safeguarding the dignity and human rights of all Libyans.
"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," the Arizona Republican continued in a statement.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) struck a similar chord in emphasizing that the international community's responsibility to Libya is not over with the death of its dictator.
"With Gadhafi's fate sealed, it is critical that we work with our allies in NATO and the region to integrate Libya into the international community of free, democratic nations. I look forward to building a strong relationship with a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Libya," Reid said.