Obama defends Libya strategy to domestic critics

US president says, "because of quick action, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and lives of countless civilians have been saved."

March 26, 2011 12:12
2 minute read.
President Obama

Obama 311 reuters. (photo credit: Reuters)

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration scrambled to defend its policy on Libya this weekend after coming under attack from domestic critics of both parties.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have rapped the White House for not consulting with them before launching a military intervention and questioned the objectives and means of conducting the campaign.

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US President Barack Obama took to the airwaves Saturday to explain his actions and argue that they have been effective.

“We’re succeeding in our mission,” he said in his weekly radio address, pointing to the air force’s destruction of Libya’s air defenses, leader Moammer Gaddafi’s roll back from key opposition areas, and the prevention of mass civilian deaths.

“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 declared.

He went on to emphasize that the American role is “limited,” the mission “clear and focused,” and one being carried out with international support.

He also noted the increasing use of NATO forces going forward.

The White House announced late Friday that Obama would also be giving a speech Monday to lay out the administration’s policy on the decision to use American force in a third Middle East country.

Obama and his team have also been reaching out to members of Congress who have taken umbrage at his lack of consultation and questioned whether he acted improperly, since Congress is the body given the authority to declare war. In addition to perennial opponents such as Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner, who sent a letter to the White House last week questioning the strategy, Obama has also faced concern from Democratic Senator Jim Webb and other traditional allies.

Several of his Democratic Congressional backers rushed to support Obama and his Libya policy.

“In my judgment, there’s been smooth communication and appropriate consultation between Congress, the president, and members of his administration thus far,” said Democratic Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after a bipartisan hour-long briefing that Obama and top White House officials convened with members on Friday, before members return from the current recess next week.

“President Obama’s decision to help form an international coalition to stop the Libyan government from killing its own citizens and prevent this situation from having a destabilizing impact on neighboring countries was both right and smart,” said Democrat Howard Berman, Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We already know that this mission has saved tens of thousands, if not more, civilian lives. It is critical that the region’s leaders see that Gaddafi’s policy of indiscriminate murder carries a heavy price-tag.” But several Republican critics remain dissatisfied, some because of the manner of the undertaking and its advisability, others because of its scope.

Republican Senator John McCain, Ranking Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned whether the US action was sufficient to force Gaddafi from power.

“Senator McCain supports the decision to intervene militarily in Libya, but he remains concerned that our actions at present may not be sufficient to avoid a stalemate and accomplish the US objective of forcing Gaddafi to leave power,” McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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