Obama Responds to Military Action in Libya

Caryn Freeman 8:45PM EST
In what the President framed has a humanitarian crisis while clarifying the US position in Libya as “narrowly focused on saving lives." The long awaited response to what our military involvement means for the US and what the ultimate outcome will be, was addressed Tuesday night at the National Defense University at Fort McNair. The President began his speech by saying that "when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act."

"That's what's happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks.  As one Libyan said, "For the first time we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over." In the president's case against Gaddafi Obama recalled some of the brutalities that the Libyan people have faced over the past few weeks. Not just rebels but innocent civilians who have been exposed to relentless violence by Gaddafi and his regime. The president reminded the American public that, "innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. Water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misrata was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques were destroyed and apartment buildings were reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air," the president said.

After the United Nations gave Gaddafi one last chance to end the extreme violence against his own citizens, the dictator refused. "At this point," the president said, "the United States and the world faced a choice. Gadhafi declared that he would show "no mercy" to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day." The president feared that had he not stopped Gaddafi from advancing and taking the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, a city of 700,000 people the people of Benghazi "could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world." Obama declared.

The president also reminded the American public of the Bosnian crisis of the mid-nineties where hundreds of thousands of Bosnian-Serbs were murdered or displaced while it took over a year for the United Nations to intervene and stop the killing of civilians. Overall the speech appealed to the heart of Americans and the responsibly the bring civility in the world where innocent civilians are in danger of being attacked by brutal dictators like Gaddafi. The president also made clear that he had fulfilled the pledge that he made to Americans, "that America's role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation; and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge," he said.

In attempt to silence Republican and Tea Party critics Obama made it clear that the United States, beginning Wednesday, would take a less visible role in Libya, serving in a "supporting role-including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation - to our military and to American taxpayers - will be reduced significantly," he said. However, he did not go has far as to say that military costs incurred by the US would be the responsibility of the Arab League or Libyans to repay. Some conservatives have suggested that a portion of the $33 billion dollars frozen from Gaddafi be used to underwrite the costs to the US military. The president affirmed "this money does not belong to Gaddafi or to us - it belongs to the Libyan people, and we'll make sure they receive it." Obama also made it a point to reassure Americans that he does underestimate the fiscal impact of using military force while referencing unrest in other middle east countries and inserting the possibility of a larger cost to Americans if no action had been taken. "I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America," the president said.

In closing the president reminded Americans of the beginnings of our own country and the revolutionary spirit that serves as a beacon to oppressed people around the world. Obama ended his speech tonight with these words. "Born as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith, those ideals that are the true measure of American leadership."

(Video of full speech above.)