With the conflict in Libya continuing, and NATO taking over command of the no-fly zone, President Obama addressed the nation tonight from the National Defense University on the U.S. role in Libya.
In the speech, which lasted just under 30 minutes, Obama said the U.S. intervened because a stable Libya is in the U.S.'s strategic interest and because of the humanitarian crisis.
"Gaddafi declared that he would show 'no mercy' to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world," Obama said.
Obama offers some insight into the future of the mission:
"As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do – and will do – is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gaddafi leaves power. It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Gaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power," Obama said.
The President has been under pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to discuss the U.S. policy and how long the U.S. military will be involved in the mission. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on the Senate floor this afternoon that he wants the president to answer many questions on Libya, such as the U.S.'s role and when the U.S. combat role will end.
When asked at the Defense Department briefing about who the opposition rebels are, Vice Admiral William Gortney told the press that he did not know. "We would like a much better understanding of the opposition but we don't have it," Gortney said. He said they are providing neither direct support nor is the U.S. "consulting" with those fighting Col. Gadhafi's forces.
The American Enterprise Institute held a discussion on "Odyssey Dawn", the name given to the operations in Libya. Panelists included former Defense official for the Bush administration Paul Wolfowitz, and former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack. The panelists said President Obama has failed to adequately explain the incursion in Libya to the American public and his speech tonight should have been given sooner. Pollack said the president should consider a "preemptive" attempt to change political structure in the Arab world and that he should also give a speech explaining broader U.S. strategy in the Middle East.