Following heavy criticism of his cautious leadership style on Libya, on Friday President Obama gave remarks about the crisis surrounding Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s escalating violence against the Libyan people. Obama announced that the United States is preparing to take a more aggressive approach in the conflict, but also tried to assure that American military engagement would be limited and part of an international effort to protect civilians.
“Here is why this matters to us,” Obama said, giving his analysis of the situation if left unchecked. “Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”
Obama listed the intervention efforts taken thus far, including laying sanctions, enforcing an arms embargo against the Qaddafi regime, and Thursday's U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone and other uses of force if the killings do not stop.
“Once more, Muammar Qadaffi has a choice,” the president said, underscoring the resolution’s clear demand for an immediate cease-fire, as well as establishing water, electricity and gas supplies back to all areas of the country. If Qaddafi does not comply, he continued, the United States, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, will take military action.
“I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing,” Obama said. “The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal – specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.”
Libyan foreign minister Moussa Koussa has announced an immediate cease-fire, but it it hasn't stopped Qadaffi's soldiers from continuing its campaign against rebel forces, according to reports.
Although President Obama has support on military engagement from congressional Republicans (Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham) as well as Democrats (Senators John Kerry and Bob Menendez), lawmakers on both sides have also expressed reluctance about making Libya our problem. Questions remain about the extent of violence against innocent civilians, as opposed to fighting between armed rebels and Qaddafi loyalists, and how the interests of Americans are being served.
Republican Senator Dick Lugar explained his reservations at a Thursday Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing: “Given the costs of a no-fly zone, the risks that our involvement would escalate, the uncertain reception in the Arab street of any American intervention in an Arab country, the potential for civilian deaths, the unpredictability of the endgame in a civil war, the strains on our military, and other factors, I am doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya."
In his remarks on Friday, President Obama stressed that he made his decision carefully, particularly when our military is already stretched thin from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “But the United States of America will not stand idly in the face of actions that undermine global peace and security,” he insisted. “I have taken this decision with the confidence that action is necessary, and that we will not be acting alone. Our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong.”