With Muammar Qaddafi finally out of the picture, Republican lawmakers are pressing the U.S. to open its wallet to help the new regime in Libya rebuild its nation, restore essential services and care for those wounded in the eight-months-long bloody conflict – an expense they say oil-rich Libya can and will reimburse.
“They’re willing to reimburse us. It’s not a matter of money,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News, making a tough sales pitch in an era of high unemployment and increasing austerity.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted that the Libyans’ top request was for help in tending to the country’s wounded and that the French and Germans have reached agreements with the new government to treat them.
“So we’ll get our money back, but the one thing we can’t get back is an opportunity,” he told Fox News. “And this is an opportunity to take a dictatorship, the mad dog of the Mideast, and replace him with people who live in peace with us.
“We can do business, have economic ties that will allow American business to prosper from a free Libya,” he added. “So I know we’re broke, but if you disengage the world, you’ll regret it and if we miss this opportunity, we’ll regret it.”
The U.S. is moving to release $37 billion in assets to Libya – assets of Qaddafi’s regime that the U.S. froze in February. And in August, the United Nations released $1.5 billion in frozen Libyan assets in American banks.
In March, Obama launched a multinational campaign to protect Libyans from Qaddafi’s crackdown on protesters who had been emboldened by gains elsewhere in the Arab world during the Arab Spring. Obama's move drew criticism from both sides of the aisle. The U.S. has spent about $1.2 billion on its military campaign, including refueling NATO planes and deploying armed drones, according to the Pentagon.
Libyan revolutionaries killed Qaddafi on Thursday, prompting NATO to start winding down its operation. But lawmakers warn rebuilding the country will be a challenge.
“This is not going to cost American tax dollars,” McCain told CBS’ Early Show on Friday. “But they have never known democracy, they have been under this brutal, oppressive dictator for 42 years, and so they’re going to need a lot of help in that direction.”