Obama on Libya: 'We have a responsibility to act'

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Obama on Libya: 'We have a responsibility to act'

Post by ToddS on Tue Mar 29, 2011 10:18 am

Obama on Libya: 'We have a responsibility to act'

By BEN FELLER, AP

8 hours ago


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WASHINGTON
— Vigorously defending the first war launched on his watch, President
Barack Obama declared Monday night that the United States intervened in
Libya to prevent a slaughter of civilians that would have stained the
world's conscience and "been a betrayal of who we are" as Americans. Yet
he ruled out targeting Moammar Gadhafi, warning that trying to oust him
militarily would be a mistake as costly as the war in Iraq.

Obama announced that NATO would take command over the entire Libya operation on Wednesday,
keeping his pledge to get the U.S. out of the lead fast — but offering
no estimate on when the conflict might end and no details about its
costs despite demands for those answers from lawmakers.

He
declined to label the U.S.-led military campaign as a "war," but made an
expansive case for why he believed it was in the national interest of
the United States and allies to use force.

In blunt terms, Obama
said the U.S.-led response had stopped Gadhafi's advances and halted a
slaughter that could have shaken the stability of an entire region.
Obama
cast the intervention in Libya as imperative to keep Gadhafi from
killing those rebelling against him and to prevent a refugee crisis that
would drive Libyans into Egypt and Tunisia, two countries emerging from
their own uprisings.

"To brush aside America's responsibility as
a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow
human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who
we are," Obama said. He spoke in a televised address to the nation,
delivered in front of a respectful audience of military members and
diplomats.

"Some nations may be able to turn a
blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of
America is different," Obama said. "And as president, I refused to wait
for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."


Obama
spoke as, in Libya, rebel forces bore down Monday on Gadhafi with the
help of airstrikes by the U.S.-led forces. His speech was his most
aggressive attempt to answer the questions mounting from Republican
critics, his own party and war-weary Americans — chiefly, why the U.S.
was immersed in war in another Muslim nation.

So far, the nation
is split about Obama's leadership on Libya. Across multiple polls, about
half of those surveyed approve of the way Obama is handling the
situation. A Pew poll out Monday found that the public does not think
the United States and its allies have a clear goal in Libya — 39 percent
said they do; 50 percent said they do not.

Amid protests and crackdowns across the Middle East and North Africa, Obama stated his case that Libya stands alone. Obama
said the United States had a unique ability to stop the violence, an
international mandate and broad coalition, and the ability to stop
Gadhafi's forces without sending in American ground troops
. The message to his country and the world: Libya is not a precedent for intervention anywhere else.

In essence, Obama,
the Nobel Prize winner for peace, made his case for war. He spoke of
justifiable intervention in times when the United States, as the world's
most powerful nation, must step in to help
.

"In such cases," Obama said, "we should not be afraid to act."

Reaction
to the speech in Congress tended to break along partisan lines, with
Republicans faulting the president for what they said was his failure to
define the mission clearly.

"When our men and women in uniform
are sent into harm's way, Americans and troops deserve a clear mission
from our commander in chief, not a speech nine days late," said Sen.
John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Armed Services Committee and head
of the Senate Republicans' political arm.

"President
Obama failed to explain why he unilaterally took our nation to war
without bothering to make the case to the U.S. Congress."


Obama
steered away from turning this into a country-by-country dissection of
the Arab revolts that are testing him at every turn. Instead, he spoke
in sweeping terms to draw a connecting thread.

Citing a failure to act in Libya, he said: "The
democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be
eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders
concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ
of the U.N. Security Council would have been shown to be little more
than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global
peace and security
."

The president also sought to address critics who have said the U.S. mission remains muddled.

Indeed,
he reiterated the White House position that Gadhafi should not remain
in power but the U.N. resolution that authorized power does not go that
far. That gap in directives has left the White House to deal with the
prospect that Gadhafi will remain indefinitely. Obama said the U.S.
would try to isolate him other ways
.

He said that the
tasks U.S. forces were carrying out — to protect Libyan civilians and
establish a no-fly zone — had international support. If the U.S. were to
seek to overthrow Gadhafi by force, "our coalition would splinter
," the president said.

"Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake," Obama said.


Left unclear is what happens if Gadhafi stays.

He
then raised the issue of Iraq and the move to rid Iraq of Saddam
Hussein, a war that deeply divided the nation and defined the presidency
of George W. Bush.

"Regime change there took eight years,
thousands of American and Iraqi lives and nearly a trillion dollars,"
Obama said. "That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."


Domestic politics got a nod, too, in a nation saddled in debt and embroiled over how to cut spending.

"The risk and cost of this operation — to our military and to American taxpayers — will be reduced significantly" Obama said.

The
president said transferring the mission to NATO would leave the United
States in a supporting role, providing intelligence, logistical support
and search and rescue assistance. He said the U.S. would also use its
capabilities to jam Gadhafi's means of communication.


Obama
spoke before an audience at the National Defense University not far
from the White House. He has tended to speak and appear more comfortable
in such settings than from behind his Oval Office desk.


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