Libya won't be another Iraq: Obama
Regime change not something U.S. can afford to repeat
Posted: Mar 28, 2011 5:53 AM ET
Last Updated: Mar 28, 2011 11:15 PM ETBack to accessibility links
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about U.S. military action in Libya Monday night at the National Defence University in Washington, D.C. (Dennis Brack/Pool/Getty Images)
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U.S. President Barack Obama says that Libya and the world would be better off with Moammar Gadhafi out of power, but that the goal will be pursued without broadening the mission to include regime change.
In a televised speech Monday night in Washington, D.C., Obama said the U.S.-led military mission in Libya had "a responsibility to act" to avert the mass slaughter of civilians.
"We were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale," he said.
But the president reiterated that the U.S. was committed to the UN resolution to protect Libyan civilians and had no intention of removing Gadhafi.
"If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.
"To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. … But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."
Obama said that the U.S. would play a supporting role in the NATO-based coalition, which would reduce the risk to the American military and his country's taxpayers.
"I said 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."
Obama said the responsibility for commanding enforcement of the arms embargo and no-fly zone, as well as the responsibility for protecting Libyan civilians, would be passed from the U.S. to NATO on Wednesday.
The U.S. has a responsibility to act when its "values and interests are at stake," Obama said.
"Moammar Gadhafi … has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world," Obama said.
"In the face of the world’s condemnation, Gadhafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people. 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. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misrata was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air."
Speaking in front of a military audience at the National Defense University, Obama presented his case in response to questions from both Republican and Democratic critics as well as Americans weary of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I will never minimize the costs involved in military action," Obama said. "I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America."
Obama said that in addition to its NATO responsibilities, the U.S. would work with the international community to provide food and medical care in Libya, and that it would safeguard $33 billion in frozen Libya assets to rebuild the country.
"This money does not belong to Gadhafi or to us — it belongs to the Libyan people, and we will make sure they receive it," Obama said.
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 Senator 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."