WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama, in a nationally televised evening speech Monday, said the United States was driven to intervene in Libya by the moral imperative to stop a feared massacre of civilians by Moammar Gadhafi. But he tempered the rationale for yet another American military involvement in a Muslim country by repeatedly saying the Libyan action was “unique.”
In his speech, Obama sought to justify and define the American mission in the oil-rich north African country and to dampen criticism from both the left and the right on the U.S. political spectrum for using the hard-pressed military in a conflict that his own defense secretary said was not critical to U.S. security interests.
“To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and, more profoundly, our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are,” Obama said.
“Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And, as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
While he did not make the specific link, Obama could well have been referring to the U.S. refusal to intervene in the 1994 tribal genocide in Rwanda and the delayed Western intervention in the Yugoslav civil war and the mass killings of Bosnian Muslims a year later.
At the same time, again without making the specific link, Obama implied that the United States intervention against Gadhafi should not set a precedent for future military action across the Middle East, where people are rising up against autocrats in countries such as Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.
Obama said the United States had often had a “unique role” in protecting global security and that he was using America's “unique capabilities” and “unique ability” to staunch the potential for massive bloodshed in Libya.
He emphasized as part of his doctrine of multilateralism that the U.S. acted only after intervention was approved by both the United Nations and the Arab League, while further underlining control over the mission in Libya had shifted to NATO.
“In such cases, we should not be afraid to act,” Obama said. “The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power,” Obama said.
“The writ of the U.N. Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security.”
United States U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said in a television interview that the U.S. was not using force to topple Gadhafi but had plenty of other tools to back Obama's insistence that the Libyan leader's 42-year-long dictatorship must end.
But Republican Sen. John McCain, Obama's 2008 presidential opponent and frequent critic, said on the same morning program that he doesn't believe it's possible “in the short term” to get rid of Gadhafi through non-military means such as economic and diplomatic pressure. McCain said “Gadhafi in power is unacceptable. We should use any means to bring him down.”