In his defense, President Obama and members of his administration have given public statements on Libya every day since the U.N. resolution authorizing a no-fly zone was first imposed. But until Monday night, the president had yet to deliver a prime-time address on the subject, a lapse that only became more glaring as people from all quarters asked: Why the silence?
Speaking before military personnel at Washington, D.C.’s National Defense University, Obama explained his decision for ordering military action in Libya, why he thinks it’s in our national interest and what the plan is going forward. Here are his clarifications (albeit indirectly and not always complete) on frequently asked questions hovering over the mission.
1. Why did you take so long to do something?
“In just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together — when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians. It took us 31 days.”
2. How do you rationalize your failure to consult Congress first?
“Nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.”
(NOTE: Yeah … he didn’t spend time on this argument. However, administration officials have pointed to the Senate resolution that passed by unanimous consent on March 1, urging the U.N. to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. This was incorporated into the U.N. resolution, so Obama’s going out on a limb here by calling it congressional consultation.)
3. Why intervene in Libya over other countries with dictators who also brutalize their own people?
“In this particular country — Libya — at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.”