WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON -- The death of Moammar Gadhafi raises hopes for greater stability in the Middle East but also creates risks as Libyan factions strive to fashion a new government, New York lawmakers said Thursday.
"The world is a better and safer place without him," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said about the dictator who ruthlessly ruled Libya for four decades and sponsored worldwide terrorism. Gadhafi leaves behind a country with a government still in transition, which presents the United States with opportunity and risk, said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights), the top Democrat on the House panel on the Middle East.
"This presents a one-time tremendously huge opportunity," he said. "We're going to have to be encouraging democratization. But you can't win the hearts and minds of a foreign people unless you make a financial investment, and also an emotional investment."
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the end of Gadhafi "has the potential to be a very significant victory for the United States. It certainly gives an opportunity to stabilize the Middle East."
He said, "The challenge now is to make sure that radical Islamists don't hijack the movement" that now runs Libya, and to secure Gadhafi's weapons.
Reps. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) credited President Barack Obama's approach of working through NATO while barring U.S. troops from setting foot in Libya. "Unlike Iraq, American engagement in Libya accomplished its goals without losing any American lives or spending hundreds of billions of dollars. This has served to burnish America's credibility in the Arab world," Bishop said.
Many New Yorkers reviled Gadhafi, whose regime acknowledged responsibility and paid reparations in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, from London to Kennedy Airport, killing 270 people. There were 61 New Yorkers on the plane.
"New Yorkers know better than almost anyone else how evil a man Moammar Gadhafi was," Schumer said. "Hopefully, his death will bring some degree of closure to the many families who lost loved ones on Flight 103."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) called again for the return to prison of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, convicted in 2001 of Flight 103's bombing but released in 2009 to Libya by the Scottish government after saying he was near death. "The Transitional National Council must get all the information we can learn about the Lockerbie bombing and put al-Megrahi back in prison where he belongs," she said.