The Note: Lessons On Libya: Obama Answers Why U.S. Got In, But Not How We Get Out

Mar 29, 2011 8:58am


In his speech on American military involvement in Libya last night, President Obama answered some questions, but left others — important ones — hanging.

First, we found out why the United States intervened militarily in the first place. According to the president, “In this particular country — Libya — at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale,” Obama said. “We had a unique ability to stop that violence:  an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves.”

Will the U.S. “broaden” its mission in the country to include regime change? The answer we heard last night was ‘no.’ “There is no question that Libya — and the world — would be better off with Gadhafi out of power,” Obama said. “But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”

He added, “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. … [Regime] change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

And on the question of whether it’s now U.S. policy to intervene everywhere there is violence and repression, the president put on the brakes in the same breath that he left the door open to future action.

“America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs,” he said. “And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”

ABC News’ White House correspondent Jake Tapper points out that Obama left at least three critical questions unanswered: the endgame in Libya, the timetable and the price tag. (The Pentagon estimated the cost of the first week of U.S. military intervention at $600 million:

As Obama noted, the U.S. will “support the aspirations of the Libyan people” and “work with other nations to hasten the day when Gadhafi leaves power,” but it’s unclear how much of a strain that will put on the American military or how long we will lend a supportive role.

And it’s apparent that the president’s remarks did little to quiet critics, especially in the Republican Party, who have been clamoring for more clarity.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that the speech failed to tackle “whether it’s the American resources that will be required, our standards and objectives for engaging the rebel opposition, or how this action is consistent with U.S. policy goals.” The bottom line from the Speaker’s office: “Nine days into this military intervention, Americans still have no answer to the fundamental question: what does success in Libya look like?”

And what do the American people think? According to a USA Today/Gallup poll taken before President Obama’s speech last night, just 10 percent of Americans said the U.S. should take the “lead” role in the military campaign in Libya and 29 percent said it should have a “major” role. Thirty-six percent said they supported a “minor” role for American troops while 22 percent said President Obama should withdraw our troops.

Don’t miss analysis of the president’s speech from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:


TUNE IN: DIANE SAWYER INTERVIEWS OBAMA. ABC News’ Diane Sawyer will sit down one-on-one with President Obama this afternoon — less than 24 hours after his speech to the nation. Sawyer’s conversation with President Obama will air tonight on “World News.” And portions of the interview will also be featured across ABC News broadcasts,, and on other ABC platforms.


NEW SPENDING DEADLINE LOOMS. Eleven days and counting — that’s how long lawmakers have to reach a funding deal to avoid a government shutdown come April 9, according to ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe. And judging by the war of words in recent days, a shutdown looks, yet again, like a real possibility. According to Jaffe, Democrats say the Tea Party’s demands are preventing Republican leadership from reaching a deal. Republican leadership says Democrats are just talking about GOP infighting as a way to distract from the fact that they have not passed a funding bill of their own.

Here’s what one Republican leadership aide told The Note, framing the GOP’s perspective on the debate that will be consuming Capitol Hill all week: “It’s hard to get a straight answer from Democrats these days because their position changes almost daily, depending on whether you talk to — the White House or Senate Democrats. First they didn’t believe one dime in spending could be cut.  Then they relented and agreed to cut $10 billion after Republicans forced the issue. Then Democrats said they could offer $11 billion more, but most of it was gimmicks. And suddenly days later they say they can offer $20 billion, but they won’t share it with anyone.”


EXCLUSIVE: MARCO RUBIO BREAKS HIS SILENCE. In a wide-ranging interview — his first national interview since being elected — freshman Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio discussed the military campaign in Libya, President Obama’s leadership, the so-called birther movement and his political plans for 2012 and beyond with ABC News’ Jonathan Karl. After persistent questioning, Rubio ruled ruled out a run for president; at least in 2012. “I am not running for president in 2012,” Rubio told Karl. Rubio, 39, was less definitive in his response to media speculation that he is the odds-on choice to be the GOP vice presidential nominee.

For the rest of Karl’s interview with the senator, tune into “Nightline” tonight and to “Good Morning America” on Wednesday when George Stephanopoulos will have the first live national television interview with Senator Rubio.


ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE. ABC’s Karen Travers and Jonathan Karl will interview Nevada GOP Congressman Joe Heck, one of several vulnerable Republican lawmakers that Democrats have been targeting for 2012. Also on the program, the National Journal’s Major Garrett, who will weigh in on the debate over Libya as well as the week ahead in spending negotiations. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.



SEN. BEGICH, GOV. O’MALLEY LAUNCH NEW DEAL. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Alaska Sen. Mark Begich announced an initiative today to bring progressive, pro-growth ideas fostered in state governments into the national spotlight. Each quarter a newly-formed national network called the NewDEAL will recognize a different group of state and local leaders on their website, “Senator Begich and I have joined the NewDEAL, because we believe that we need to look for fresh ideas not just from the top down in Washington DC, but also from the bottom up, where local leaders are developing and testing their ideas out on the ground,” O’Malley said. According to a statement from the group, ten elected officials from across the country have already been selected “for their work championing ideas ranging from progressive tax reform to fostering small business growth and streamlining government spending.” Gov. O’Malley and Sen. Begich will serve as NewDEAL’s honorary co-chairs. (h/t ABC News’ Amy Bingham).

CONSERVATIVES GOING ROGUE? “If House Republican leaders are looking to tighten the nation’s fiscal belt, the budget hawks in the conservative Republican Study Committee want to apply it as a tourniquet,” Politico’s Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen report. “Their tool: an ambitious fiscal 2012 alternative budget that will challenge the official GOP leadership’s spending plan and once again reveal divides within the Republican Party over how deep to cut the government. Never mind that Republican leaders like John Boehner and Eric Cantor are promising to slash basic annual budgets for government agencies and cut entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security. The die-hards writing the rogue budget at the RSC are sure to paint them as a bit squishy on spending. They’ve already caused plenty of consternation for Republican leaders. Earlier this year, the back bench forced party leaders to double their original plan to cut $32 billion from federal accounts in fiscal 2011, pushing for more than $60 billion.”

REDISTRICTING BATTLES BEGIN. “Several veteran members of the U.S. Congress could soon find their jobs in the line of fire as redistricting efforts get underway around the country,” ABC News’ Huma Khan reports. “From New York, which will lose two U.S. House seats, to Ohio, which will lose the same number, Democrats are particularly vulnerable this time around in the once-a-decade process that’s rife with partisan bickering. Meanwhile, population growth in heavily Republican states has given the GOP an upper hand. Texas will gain four House seats, the most of any state. Florida will gain two seats, and Arizona and Georgia one each. ‘Republicans are in the best position that they’ve been in for redistricting in the modern era of redistricting across the country and especially in these states that are gaining seats, like Texas,’ said Tim Storey, a redistricting analyst at the National Council of State Legislatures.”

DEMOCRATS TAKE ON GOP OVER NUCLEAR ENERGY. “The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee slammed more than 50 House Republicans on Monday, the 32nd anniversary of the Three Mile Island disaster, for voting to reduce nuclear security spending,” Roll Call’s Melanie Starkey reports. “The targeted statements distributed to the Members’ districts accuse the lawmakers of supporting ‘a dangerous plan to drastically reduce the security of nuclear facilities across the nation.’ The lawmakers voted last month to pass a continuing resolution authored by House Republicans for the remainder of fiscal 2011 that would cut funding for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and for nuclear non-proliferation efforts, according to a summary of the bill by House Appropriations Republicans. It would also cut funding for first responder training for weapons of mass destruction, according to a summary by Senate Appropriations Democrats. ‘While we know we need to cut spending and reduce the national debt, Illinois families are rightfully scared about Representative Bob Dold’s plan to cut nuclear safety, security and clean-up,’ DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in the statement targeted to freshman Dold’s Illinois district.”

TEAM HUNTSMAN STAFFS UP IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. “A political action committee that’s expected to eventually become the presidential campaign committee for Ambassador to China and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is gearing up in New Hampshire with the hiring of two prominent local Republican strategists,” the New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DiStaso notes. “The Granite Status has learned that Paul Collins, a nearly 30-year political campaign organizer and former congressional and U.S. Senate chief of staff, and Brad Blais, a key player in U.S. Rep. Charlie Bass’ 2010 campaign, are joining the Horizon PAC as consultants to organize its political operations in the first-in-the-nation primary state. Huntsman, a socially moderate but fiscally conservative Republican, in January resigned his post as President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to China, effective April 30. He is expected to explore a presidential candidacy or possibly immediately become a candidate.”


WHITE HOUSE WATCH. Today President Obama travels to New York City. He will sit down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer and other television networks for interviews. Later this afternoon, the president will deliver remarks at the dedication of the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building. In the evening, he will deliver remarks at a DNC event at the Red Rooster Restaurant followed by another fundraiser at the Studio Museum. (h/t ABC’s Sunlen Miller).



@Niketa: Sources: Gadhafi seeking possible exile deal. Rice doesnt deny on @GMA & opens door to US support / @GStephanopoulos

@nationaljournal: Hoyer: When manufacturing migrates overseas, innovation follows it. #njinsiders

@jmartpolitico: Intrsting back-stage stuff: Haley B trying to set up meeting with Huck as both heap praise on the other.

@THEHermanCain: Enjoying the warmth of the Sunshine State. Speech this evening at AFP-Florida. Also 3 PM interview with @EdMorrissey!

@keeekster: Is that former press sec Robert Gibbs I see working away on his iPad w oatmeal @NorthsideSocial? Bet thats better than gettin up @5am for WH



* Rick Santorum will be an in-studio guest on WEZS 1350 AM with host Niel Young in Laconia, NH. Santorum will then join Wolfeboro business owner and former Carroll County GOP Chairman Luke Freudenberg for a tour of downtown Wolfeboro, NH. Santorum will finish day with attending the “First in the Nation Celebration” Dinner, sponsored by the New Hampshire Republican Party, in Concord, NH

* Newt Gingrich will be at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI to screen the documentary Nine Days that Change the World at 7 PM

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