What we heard from Obama on Libya (UPDATED)

UPDATED at 8:35 p.m.: I’m not sure we got answers to all, or any, of the questions I originally asked below:

What are our military objectives? — I think President Obama would have you believe the answer to this question is “achieved.” He said we had stepped in “to stop a massacre” at Benghazi. He said NATO was taking the lead, and was at pains to describe our role going forward as limited: “intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications.”

But the question is: Until when? Until when will we be performing these tasks in Libya? Obama said both that regime change could not be a military objective or else our coalition “would splinter,” and that we would pursue regime change through other means. Does that mean we’ll be providing a military role to complement those other efforts at regime change until regime change does occur?

Bottom line: This was a “mission accomplished” moment sans the banner and aircraft carrier. But we all know the Iraq war didn’t end on that carrier.

Who exactly are the rebels? — We got not a hint at this question, only talk about the need for the Libyan people to govern themselves. Well, OK. But are the rebels the group to provide that opportunity? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with the “Libyan opposition” — one assumes that means the same group that’s fighting Gadhafi militarily — in London Tuesday. Maybe more details will be forthcoming after that.

Can we really hand off this mission? — Obama certainly made every effort to say the answer to this is “yes.” But that list above, about intelligence, search-and-rescue, etc., suggests there is a limit to the limitedness of our involvement. Most of all, we’ll have to wait and see how well NATO can enforce a no-fly zone without U.S. pilots on patrol.

Is Libya distracting us from more pressing American interests? — Here again, Obama tried to make the case that a) because our involvement going forward will be so limited, we aren’t really tying up many resources in Libya, and b) he has no appetite for pursuing other “interests” in places like Syria and Bahrain. OTOH, what exactly did he mean by “I believe that this movement of change [in the region] cannot be turned back, and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms”? Will we “stand alongside” any of them the way we’re standing alongside the Libyan rebels? Seems to me he left the door open a bit there.

Are we in this thing until Gadhafi is no longer in power? — See answer to the first question.

Does NATO’s assumption of command of the operation mean our troops’ participation will actually decrease? — See the answer to the third question.

Are we going to recognize the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya? And does that mean we cannot live with a partitioned country? — We’ll have to wait and see.  The answer seems to be that Obama chiefly hopes Gadhafi will go more quietly, or at least quickly, than that.


White House aides first suggested President Obama would not make a national address about the war armed conflict kinetic military action in Libya, but it turns out that policy didn’t last very long, either. The president will give a nationally televised speech tonight from the National Defense University in which he’ll try to explain what we’re doing in Libya and why.

I for one am glad that, contrary to what the above-linked Politico story indicated, Obama has not waited to give an “explanatory address to outline his elusive endgame to the nation until the path ahead becomes clearer.” It would be comforting to know there was an endgame, however elusive, envisioned before the air war was launched.

As for specific questions that Obama ought to answer tonight, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat has a pretty good short list: What are our military objectives? Who exactly are the rebels? Can we really hand off this mission? Is Libya distracting us from more pressing American interests?

If I could go a bit further, I’d ask to hear the answers to these questions:

  • Does the president’s belief that Moammar Gadhafi “has lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to rule” — I didn’t know Gadhafi ever really had either one, but whatever — mean we are in this thing until Gadhafi is no longer in power?
  • Does NATO’s assumption of command of the operation mean our troops’ participation will actually decrease?
  • Are we going to recognize the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya? And does that mean we cannot live with a partitioned country?

Anyway, that’s a brief summary of what I’ll be listening for tonight. How about y’all?

– By Kyle Wingfield

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80 comments Add your comment


March 28th, 2011
4:52 pm

Personally, I wish the US had not used military force, nor did I like the policy in Afganistan or Iraq (inherited). That said, I’m not going to call him names like a playground bully.

Problem with presidents is they worry about politics.


March 28th, 2011
4:52 pm

I think all those questions are valid. If I were President I probably wouldn’t answer all of them and would focus on (1) preventing genocide; (2) the multilateralism of the action; and (3) the tempering of future expectations on the need to make this a multi-lateral iniative and not just an American one.

I would think our interests in Libya are clearer than they were before invading Iraq. Gaddhafi’s response to teh uprising threatens world oil supply, economic stability, and human beings. The country is small enough that a transition to a more democratic nation or set of nations seems alot more manageable.


March 28th, 2011
5:06 pm

I’d just like to see him focus on something other than his basketball picks…

Joel Edge

March 28th, 2011
5:07 pm

I’ll just read it tomorrow. Doubt if I’m going to hear much.


March 28th, 2011
5:16 pm

My expectations for Obama are being set permanently lower than gutter. I have developed this soft prejudice against our dear leader for several reasons, this biggest of which is his utterly unfulfilled promises regarding “open discussion” and “open administration” he doled out in the campaign. Including the complicit mass media’s blanket silence in criticizing this gaping flaw in his “leadership” I’ve got to conclude that he is the worst President in my lifetime (and I was born before Johnson!).

Obama said he was going to lead a nationwide debate about healthcare. All we got was him talking about talking about healthcare. We got Nancy Pelosi withholding the bill even until after it was passed. We got “bending the cost curve” and “fixing healthcare will fix the economy”, both incredible claims even taken at face value. Did we hear the BS-alert from the media? Don’t think so! Imagine Bush saying, “fixing Iraq will fix the economy.” I can imagine the drumbeat.

Obama’s calls for civility are backed by Eric Holder dismissing “his” very uncivil “people” for what can only be considered a violation of civil rights voting laws in Pennsylvania. Because I deem Obama’s talent for anything is simply telling us (or having someone else tell us) how talented he is, I can only assume that his message tonight is that he is giving us bromides, cant, the ol’ Chicago soft shoe, cliches and that tonight’s message is talking about his message.

With Obama, “let me be clear” simply means, “I’m not making any god-damn sense at all, but you can take all your questions and criticisms about me and stick’em where the sun don’t shine.”

that's goofy

March 28th, 2011
6:10 pm

Chris @5:06 The President did not put any thought into his picks because he went chalk.

I don’t buy the “he’s a bad guy” or to “prevent genocide”. US Foreign Policy is very selective on who we help. We helped Saddam commit genocide – by giving him weapons. We did next to nothing to help Rwanda and Sudan. Congress kept us out of Bosnia. We helped Osama bin Laden fight the Russians – told him thanks and then didn’t think about him for a few years.

UN (France) had an interest and so did Europe – they asked us to blow some things up – and we do that better than anybody. We should keep a few ships around but let Europe clean up this mess.

to conclude my rant – I simply don’t care why we are there. He is operating from the same playbook since at least 1945. Getting in and get out without losing American lives is my only concern.

that's goofy

March 28th, 2011
6:11 pm

should read: UN (France) has an interest in Libya (and so does the rest of Europe)

F. Sinkwich

March 28th, 2011
6:28 pm

My expectations are really low.

His teleprompter will probably say he needed to act militarily because of “innocent lives” at risk while emphasizing that no American lives have been lost in this “humanitarian effort.”

The TP will praise our military then tell us that some other country/entity is in charge, so we really don’t have to worry much.

One question TP will not answer, Kyle, is yours:

“Who exactly are the rebels?”

F. Sinkwich

March 28th, 2011
6:30 pm

How’s that Hope & Change going for you, goofy? Aren’t you glad you voted for this loser?


March 28th, 2011
7:19 pm

My problem with all of this is that I think Gaddafi should have been taken out a long long time ago…

Schrodinger's cat

March 28th, 2011
7:21 pm

So…who played who?…Obama played Sarkozoy or Sarkozy played Obama?….
I’d guess the latter….that French fellow is pretty savy


March 28th, 2011
7:26 pm

I’m so glad Kyle that you continue to dissect our military involvement in Libya. Now, if you would please explain to us our Afghanistan and Iraq policies from your great George W. we would all be grateful. So much time to criticize sending some Cruise missles to Libya. A decade later, billions of dollars spent, and lives lost – in two wars – and you haven’t got a clue. So nice to pick and choose your battles, isn’t it?

Schrodinger's cat

March 28th, 2011
7:29 pm

Darwin …in case you haven’t noticed President Obama has had plenty of time to stop both engagements….W may have started them but President Obama has done little to end either of them…just sayin’


March 28th, 2011
7:56 pm

Thank God for our PRESIDENT!

Kyle Wingfield

March 28th, 2011
7:59 pm

Well, folks…sold?

Schrodinger's cat

March 28th, 2011
8:04 pm

on what?…
was it important to our interests or values?..or was it to avoid mass murder???…I heard excuses …no reasons

No More Progressives!

March 28th, 2011
8:16 pm

Let me be clear……………

Michael H. Smith

March 28th, 2011
8:19 pm

Kyle Wingfield

March 28th, 2011
7:59 pm

NOPE! Check out how he talked and the positions he took as a Senator, then compared to how he talks and the actions he has taken as a President and he did not consult Congress but chose to ignore them and the Constitution. At least Bush did consulted Congress!

Impeachment? Possibly. Presidents are not Kings. Someone needs to remind this self-exalted “dear leader” of that fact… very rudely if necessary.

Rafe Hollister

March 28th, 2011
8:26 pm

Typical Barry falderol, not sure what the man said. Everything was so couched and qualified. I’m not sure if he had a point he was trying to make or not, but he certainly performed to my low expectations. What a royal waste of airtime.

tar and feathers party

March 28th, 2011
8:30 pm

A clear violation of the War Powers Act, we either enforce the Act now or it will never be enforceable. Impeach based on the violation of the Act, with removal from office the price for the violation. Its now or never….

Rafe Hollister

March 28th, 2011
8:54 pm

30 minutes after our troops rolled into Baghdad, the liberal talking heads of the MSM were asking “what is the exit strategy?”. Well, someone please ask Barry, “what is the exit strategy, please?”


March 28th, 2011
9:18 pm

My first question is why Libya in particular? Why not Somalia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Uganda, or, wherever there are “human-rights violations”? How about China, North Korea? They have blatant loss of human-rights. I just find it unnerving that we jump in where OIL is involved for our Allies. Exit strategy is not going to be a topic for quite some time.

This seems to be a great White House ploy, no matter who is in office, to get our minds off domestic problems that are pressing and that demand action. Creating a diversion seems to work better than addressing the problems. Imagine that.


March 28th, 2011
9:49 pm

It seemed the more he talked the less he said.

When his speechwriters sense a “no sale”, they make his speeches longer and encourage him to point a lot. It doesn’t work.

He felt it necessary to compare his responsiveness to other wars (sorry, kinetic military actions) and brought up Bosnia as the comparative example. How weak was that….

And does he have to use top level military brass for the peanut gallery? That man loves adoration even if it is forced (or enforced).

I mourn for our country.

[...] action in Libya necessary, unique and limitedKansas City StarChannel News Asia -BBC News -Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 5,396 news [...]

that's goofy

March 29th, 2011
12:04 am

F. Sinkwich (6:30 pm)
“How’s that Hope & Change going for you, goofy? Aren’t you glad you voted for this loser?”

It is actually working out quite well – thanks.

I didn’t leave the GOP – they left me when they chose party over country.

that's goofy

March 29th, 2011
12:18 am

War Powers Act (1973) passed by Congress to prevent another Vietnam.

President can send troops into hostilities for 60 days. The President is Commander in Chief of US military. Congress controls the money.


Every President since Ford has ignored it – believing it is unconstitutional. The House could move to impeach – but removal of office? Not going to happen.

no necks

March 29th, 2011
12:23 am

No amount of evidence or proof can sway the non-believers. I’m glad we have a President who thinks before he acts, no like before.

rupert loves a commie

March 29th, 2011
2:45 am

What Repubs won’t admit is that they loved it when Ronny Reagan made his half-assed attempt to bomb Gaddafi in 1986. Ronny had no realistic objective and no end-game, and he failed. Yep, failed right into provoking Gaddafi’s revenge attack over Lockerbie two years later. And still, Reagan did nothing.
And finally, Obama is cleaning up Reagan’s mess. The difference is, Obama will succeed where Reagan failed.

No More Progressives!

March 29th, 2011
4:38 am

To answer your question, Kyle, no. At least a good snake oil salesmen has passion and enthusiasm for his product. No passion or conviction did I see.

I Report :-) You Whine :-( mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

March 29th, 2011
5:36 am

“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,” obozo said. “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.” -Urinal

So I guess the millions being killed in Sudan is an acceptable “atrocity?”

There are just blacks after all…huh, obozo?

ragnar danneskjold

March 29th, 2011
6:52 am

Good morning all. As is my custom I did not the talker in chief, preferring to clip my fingernails instead. I do not judge him by his motives or his words; I judge him by his actions. While I am distressed by the lack of leadership Chauncey has shown on Libya, ultimately he has done the right thing, committing American support to the vision of Sarkozy. So I give him a pass, but no points.


March 29th, 2011
6:57 am

It’s fun reading all of your comments each day. It didn’t matter what the President did the same right-wingers would be faulting him today. If we had done nothing, and some 25,000 men, women and children had been killed for the fun of it by a crazy man, you same vocal opponents would be saying the same thing. I’m just so very glad McCain isn’t President. We would have troops on the ground at this moment. And you bozos would be waving the American flag, just like you did when Dubya jerked this country into Iraq–a country that was ruled by a secular leader, who was rendered useless by George H.W. Bush. Everyone knew Saddam had nothing to fight us, or anyone else with, but Dubya had this issue with his Daddy. You want goals, deadlines, etc.. What were the goals in Iraq? To my knowledge, we never had real goals. First it was WMD, then, when the lie was revealed, it was regime change. Then it was democratic elections (as long as they voted for our guy). Now, what is the goal? I see a President that came into office with two wars that have been going on for EIGHT years and a financial meltdown and budget deficit primarily created because Bush kept the wars off the books. As Colin Powell told Bush, if you break Iraq, you will own it. We own it. So where were you guys in 2003? I bet you were riding around in your SUVs with flags flying. It is sad that you can’t see your own hypocrisy long enough to let the venom and hatred get out of your system.


March 29th, 2011
7:41 am

It’s clear from the mans actions and words the reason we are in Libya is that the UN told him to do it and he didn’t have to make a decision. After all, the UN is above all nations and represents the people of the world and cannot be ignored.

Chip in N GA

March 29th, 2011
7:44 am

Silence, you knaves! The Boy King Emperor God has spoken! So it is written (on the Teleprompter), so it shall be!

Of course, what Obama said was totally incoherent, but I’m sure it made sense inside his narcissistic fantasy bubble of a mind. This is what happens when a majority of a media-addicted mob elects a silly academic clown who has never spent a day of his life in the real world. Unfortunately the real world has consequences for actions.

Heaven help us all. I just hope there’s still a USA to salvage in 2012 when we kick this useless America-hating idiot to the curb.

Joel Edge

March 29th, 2011
7:54 am

Nice speech. Not one of his better ones. Still good. I watched it until about five minutes after “To summarize, then”. Looked like it was going to go on a while.
I could have done without the shot at Bush. Too much to resist, I guess.
“We are your friends. We are so grateful to those men who are protecting the skies.”
This month. Let’s see how this plays out.

finn mccool

March 29th, 2011
8:23 am

Wow, conservatives asking pointed questions about the president’s decision to go to war.

Whoda thunk they had the stones to do that?

I guess it’s easier to do when the president is from the opposing party and you don’t have to worryabout not being able to look friends and family members in the eye.


March 29th, 2011
8:26 am

Deborah @6:57am,

The goals in Iraq are clear actually, AND they are being met. Right now Iraq is the model for stability in the Middle East. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, even President Adolescence Obama did not dispute the fact we needed to go there and root out terrorism.

It’s typical. We lose the wars Democrats want to “fight” because there are no or few goals, and because Democrats do not care about victory. We need to face facts. We are in Libya because Hillary Clinton shamed Obama into going after Obama had a particularly bad case of indigestion that night and had no will to resist his “better” intentions. I’ll bet he wishes he hadn’t gone along with it.

Above is a good illustration of the wishy-washy motivation behind what clearly is a wishy-washy effort.


March 29th, 2011
8:40 am

Interesting statement Kyle…….Bottom line: This was a “mission accomplished” moment sans the banner and aircraft carrier. But we all know the Iraq war didn’t end on that carrier.

Yes Kyle “Mission Accomplished” was after the US went broke, for paying for unfunded Wars, and the US citizens still have zero to show for the Iraq War, sans the debt to pass on to the grand children.

“Mission Accomplished” means Cheney was able to bilk the American Population with “Cost plus contracts” his staff designed for his buddies in the War business.

But hey most understanding what happened will realize this, and of course…..” Deficits don’t matter” …… The Republican Mantra will live on.

JF McNamara

March 29th, 2011
8:51 am

If you want to read what Obama said yourself and form your own opinion, here is the transcript to the speech.



March 29th, 2011
8:52 am

It is just a matter of time before some other head of state decides a large number of his people need killing. Will we intervene? If not, are Libyan lives somehow worth more that lives in other countries? Inquiring minds would really like to know Obama’s thinking on this.

Dirty Dawg

March 29th, 2011
9:13 am

Wingfield, you are such a predictable twerp…kinda like your buddy Newt, no matter what you say today, if ‘he’, as in Obama, says it tomorrow, you’re certain to change your tune.

Obama, by all accounts, other than right-wing, made a logical, understandable, perfectly sane review of what, why, and why now, about this Libyan mess…but you ain’t gonna buy it for an instant, are you? After all, you have your ‘T-Ps’ to pander to.


March 29th, 2011
9:17 am

Interesting debate.

One of the problems with Gadhafi getting out of Libya is that, so far, no other country will have him within their border. So unless he is killed the problem will not go away.

I am somewhat surprised at the number of Republicans who want to go to actual combat to protect the Muslims in Libya by spending American lives.

Please recall that the US went into orbit when a handful of Muslims killed 3000 Americans during the 9/11 attacks. But we then spent over 4000 American lives trying to create a country for Iraqi Muslims, and that was OK. And we are now spending thousands of American lives to create a country for Afghanistani Muslims, and that is OK. And now Republicans want to spend more American lives in Libya to protect Muslims.

But then we have those same Republicans going to court trying to prevent American Muslims from building Mosques in their own country.

What I am picking up is that, at this point in our history, US Republicans are doing “principles” with a small “p”. Politics over principles. The same thing a lot of Democrats did during the first Bush 43 administration.

I guess times have passed me by but I always favored those leaders who believed in “Principles” with a capital “P”. But they must be an “endangered species” as I am struggling to find one.

Oh, and I have not mentioned the Republican demand to rein in federal spending but yet say it is OK to spend trillions of dollars to protect foreign Muslims from other foreign Muslims.

Where is the Republican Party of yore?


March 29th, 2011
9:28 am

Did not get to listen to the speech but, from what I’ve heard, it is sort of what I expected. Obama can’t really answer all of these questions because his administration (and the rest of the world) is basically in reaction mode. There are facts on the ground that are changing hourly and America is not the catalyst for these changes. It appears to be the Arab youth and 20 and 30 somethings that are fed up with their oppressive regimes and lousy economies and want peaceful transition to more democractic governments. It is really amazing to watch actually. A neocon wet dream … except that America didn’t really catalyze this. A liberal democrat’s wet dream then.

Charley del Pizzo

March 29th, 2011
9:34 am

Since most of those very same questions still remain unanswered about our “mission” in Iraq do you really expect an answer?


March 29th, 2011
9:43 am

You know the repubs were screaming just a few months ago: “Help Iran!! Didn’t Obama see the signs printed in English? They want our help!!! Obama is SCARED to get involved!!” also “Help Egypt!! Didn’t Obama see the signs printed in English? They want our help!!! Obama is SCARED to get involved!!” one more (before Obama took action in Libya) “Help Libya!!! Didn’t Obama see the signs printed in English? They want our help!!! Obama is SCARED to get involved!!” Then Obama got involved and the tune from the right suddenly changed to “IMPEACH OBAMA!!! We shouldn’t have gotten involved!!!

So much hypocrisy from the right……..so little time……..


March 29th, 2011
9:50 am

@DDR: I agree. The criticism from the Right lacks any intellectual or ideological cohesion. But, what do you expect? Their approach to world affairs ALSO lacks intellectual and ideological cohesion.

the watch dog

March 29th, 2011
9:57 am

The U.S. will have troops on the ground in Libya in short order and we will be in another quick sand event. The more we struggle with Libyas internal problems the more quickly we sink into the morass of middle east insanity..Now Syria is having an uprising, there we go again. Then Yemen and Saudi Arabia, it is all quick sand and we are trapped.

Kyle Wingfield

March 29th, 2011
10:02 am

Ok, to everyone defending the president’s speech, answer me this: At what point — I’m not asking for a date in time, but an event or achievement — do we say we’re done in Libya? Do you know the answer to that question any better today than you did before the speech?

And to those who keep invoking Iraq: If you think we went into Iraq without a clear aim or endgame, and that this was a mistake, wouldn’t you prefer that we not repeat that mistake?

Road Scholar

March 29th, 2011
10:18 am

Intown: “Did not get to listen to the speech but, from what I’ve heard,…”

Why don’t you get off your ass and read the speech (if you can read) so you can develop your own understanding of what HE ACTUALLY SAID! This is the problem with Americans; if it isn’t a 30 second soundbyte, or it isn’t digested by others (how do you know you can trust their interpretation?) You don’t take the time to understand what is at heart.

Sorry for the insult, but it makes my point!

Road Scholar

March 29th, 2011
10:24 am

Kyle, I can’t answer that question now. It sort of like “they will welcome us with open arms” comment at the beginning of Iraq. They didn’t tell us that their arms would be guns and IED’s!

But we have no troops on the ground, unless you volunter with the other chest beaters to go over and take over Libya. We have destroyed their air capability. We have hurt if not destroyed their miliary communications. We have sent their army a’running, protecting civilians from mass murder. Let politics work…be patient.