|A Libyan rebel stands at the site of a Western-led
air strike in the strategic oil town of Ajdabiya
© AFP Patrick Baz
WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama gave a staunch defense of the US role in the international military mission in Libya Saturday, as he comes under pressure to explain US goals to a public exhausted by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama’s weekly radio and online address was his most detailed review of the UN-sanctioned action so far, and comes ahead of an address to the nation Monday on the US strategy in Libya.
“Make no mistake, because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians — innocent men, women and children — have been saved,” Obama said.
When innocent people are brutalized by a leader like Kadhafi who was threatening a “bloodbath,” and when nations are prepared to respond together, “it’s in our national interest to act,” he said. “And it’s our responsibility.”
“Every American can be proud of the lives we’ve saved in Libya,” he said.
Conservative and liberal politicians have criticized Obama for joining what many say is an open-ended, ill-conceived operation to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya.
Obama however emphasized that the US mission “is clear and focused.”
The UN Security Council mandated the no-fly zone and an international coalition that includes Arab countries was protecting Libyans to prevent “further atrocities.”
“We’re succeeding in our mission. We’ve taken out Libya’s air defenses. Kadhafi’s forces are no longer advancing across Libya,” he said.
A key part of the administrations’ information blitz on Libya includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who are to appearing Sunday on influential TV political talk shows.
Critics are already taking shots at Obama’s Libya policy on grounds of failing to define the mission and for not first consulting the US Congress, which has the sole authority to declare war.
Newt Gingrich, a prominent Republican critic and possible 2012 presidential hopeful, said he was “utterly confused” about the operation’s goals.
|A gas mask hangs on a destroyed tank
belonging to Moamer Kadhafi’s forces
© AFP Aris Messinis
“It’s not a humanitarian mission. It’s a mission to defeat Kadhafi,” said Gingrich Saturday. “I’ve never heard a no-fly zone that includes everything,” he added, a reference to air strikes on Kadhafi’s tanks.
The UN mandate on Libya is limited to protecting civilians, and does not cover overthrowing Kadhafi.
Gingrich however was panned for first criticizing Obama for not being more forceful in imposing a no-fly zone, even without UN approval.
“I would like to see, of course, as long as we’re in it — we better be in it to win it,” said former Alaska governor Sarah Palin earlier on Fox News. “And if there’s doubt, we get out.”
Another possible Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, described Obama’s lack of clarity on the Libya mission as “dithering.”
In Congress, legislators like Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Dennis Kucinich have called for a debate and vote on military action against Libya.
Obama briefed key congressional leaders — included Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, Majority leader Eric Cantor, and Nancy Pelosi, the chamber’s Democratic leader — on Libya Friday.
After the briefing however Boehner said Obama “left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered.”
Clinton, Gates, US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the top US uniformed military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, are later scheduled to offer a classified briefing for members of Congress on Wednesday.
In his Saturday address Obama emphasized that the US goals were limited, that “responsibility for this operation” would be transferred to US allies and NATO partners, and that no US ground troops would be sent to Libya.
“The United States should not, and cannot, intervene every time there’s a crisis somewhere in the world,” Obama said.
The president also repeated his warnings that Kadhafi, who has ruled Libya with an iron fist since 1969, should go.
“Moamer Kadhafi has lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to rule, and the aspirations of the Libyan people must be realized,” Obama said.
US public support for the conflict is lukewarm: a March 22 Gallup poll showed that 47 percent of Americans surveyed approve of action against Libya.
The pollsters said this support “is lower than what Gallup has found when asking about approval of other US military campaigns in the past four decades.”
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license