Republican Gingrich seeks to clarify Libya remarks

* Gingrich admits to “contradictions” in statements

* Barbour blasts Obama and his aides as elitists

By Kay Henderson

DES MOINES, March 26 (Reuters) – Republican Newt Gingrich,
testing the waters for a possible presidential run in 2012,
sought to explain on Saturday why he appeared to be for a U.S.
military intervention in Libya before he was against it.

Before President Barack Obama backed the use of U.S. force
to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, Gingrich had favored such a
move, saying “this is a moment to get rid” of Libyan leader
Muammar Gaddafi.

But once Obama ordered the U.S. military into action,
Gingrich declared, “I would not have intervened.”

Policy flip-flops are a hallmark of American politics but
Gingrich’s ran the risk of complicating his attempts to show
why Republican voters should view him as a more steadfast
leader than a host of other Republicans considering a run to
challenge Democrat Obama in 2012.

The former speaker of the House of Representatives,
speaking at a conservative conference that attracted several
other potential Republican presidential candidates, told the
crowd “obviously there were contradictions” in his statements
but that he had changed his analysis as a result of Obama
changing his position.

“Now, I believe the only rational objective of the current
intervention is to defeat Gaddafi as rapidly as possible,”
Gingrich said. “I would do it by using Egyptian, Moroccan,
Jordanian, and Iraqi ground forces as advisers and as air
controllers, with the rebels, using all of western air power as
decisively as possible.”

More than 500 Iowans gathered for the conference, an event
staged to help Republican voters sort through a long list of
potential candidates.

Iowa plans to hold the country’s first presidential contest
next January and is among the stops candidates must make to
generate enthusiasm.

Another Republican strongly considering a presidential
race, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, used his speech to
blast Obama and his aides as elitists who have hamstrung the
economy.

“I wish we had some people in this administration who’d
signed the front side of a paycheck in their lives,” Barbour
said to applause, “some people who understand it’s the private
sector that creates wealth.”

Barbour criticized Obama for proposing an energy policy
that he said would end up raising taxes on the oil industry.

“Who does he think is going to pay that? Exxon? That’s
going to be paid by the people who are pumping gas and diesel
fuel into their cars and trucks,” Barbour said.
(Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Xavier Briand)

Republican Gingrich seeks to clarify Libya remarks