Obama to Address Nation on Libya as Lawmakers Seek Answers

President Barack Obama will address the nation next week on the U.S. and allied military action in Libya as he faces continued questions from some lawmakers about the mission’s goals and costs.

The president will talk about “the actions we’ve taken with allies and partners to protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Muammar Qaddafi, the transition to NATO command and control, and our policy going forward,” according to a White House statement.

The speech is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. local time on March 28 at the National Defense University in Washington. Obama, in his weekly radio and Internet address today, said the U.S. and its allies have halted Qaddafi’s forces, destroyed his air defenses and prevented a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Obama said that, while the U.S. shouldn’t get involved in every crisis, “when someone like Qaddafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region, and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives, then it’s in our national interest to act.” The nation has a “responsibility” to help in Libya, the president said.

Briefing Congress

The March 28 address was announced yesterday after Obama and members of his administration spent about an hour briefing Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House and senior members of congressional committees dealing with the military, foreign affairs and intelligence.

The U.S. and allies including France and the U.K. are enforcing a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians by imposing a no-fly zone over the north African nation and prevent Qaddafi’s forces from attacking cities. Members of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization have agreed to take over command of the no-fly zone from the U.S., and spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said yesterday that NATO was “actively considering” a broader role in all operations.

The day after Obama’s speech, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to join foreign ministers from nations involved in the Libya campaign at a meeting in London intended to hammer out a framework for the political direction.

Yesterday’s briefing, conducted with some lawmakers present in the Situation Room and others taking part via conference call, failed to quell calls by House Speaker John Boehner for a fuller explanation of U.S. goals in Libya.

Clarity Sought

While Boehner, an Ohio Republican, “appreciated the update,” he thinks “much more needs to be done by the administration to provide clarity” about military objectives in Libya and how the U.S. role is consistent with the nation’s policies, spokesman Kevin Smith said in an e-mail afterward.

In a letter to Obama earlier this week, Boehner challenged the president to explain the “contradiction” between his declaration that Qaddafi “must go” and repeated administration statements that regime change isn’t the aim of the military campaign.

Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Obama made clear at the briefing that Qaddafi’s regime won’t be overturned by military force.

“We are not going to force him out militarily,” Smith said in a telephone interview, recounting the discussion with the president.

No Exact Timeline

Smith said the president didn’t give an exact timeline for when NATO-led operations and the U.S. support mission will end.

Obama did tell lawmakers that the U.S. has no plans to send ground troops into Libya to remove Qaddafi from power, said a Republican aide familiar with the discussion.

The president also said that prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague have begun efforts to bring Qaddafi to justice, according to the aide.

Among the criticisms leveled by lawmakers from both parties is that Obama didn’t consult with Congress before committing U.S. armed forces.

“It’s fair to say there should have been more consultation” before military operations began March 19, Smith said. Obama, who briefed congressional leaders March 18, “has made up a great deal for that” since then by reaching out to lawmakers, he said.

“We take the need to consult very seriously,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at a briefing yesterday. “And the president will continue to do that, as will senior members of his administration.”

‘Urgency to Act’

Carney said “there was an urgency to act” in Libya before Congress returned from a weeklong recess because there was evidence that Qaddafi loyalists “were about to move on Benghazi and wreak horrible damage and kill many, many Libyans.”

“I think there’s very little doubt that Benghazi would have fallen and that many people would have died,” he said.

Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other officials are scheduled to brief House members behind closed doors on March 30.

After popular uprisings across the region that toppled longtime leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, the Libyan rebellion has evolved into a civil war. Libya holds Africa’s largest oil reserves, and concern about the turmoil there has helped push oil prices up about 25 percent since fighting began last month.

Obama hasn’t built broad public support for the military action in Libya. A Gallup poll conducted March 21 found support for the mission is the lowest at the outset of a U.S. military action in the past three decades. Forty-seven percent of Americans approve of the Libya mission, while 37 percent disapprove. By comparison, 51 percent approved of the intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and 76 percent approved at the start of the war in Iraq in 2003.

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