In the East Room of the White House this afternoon, President Obama gave Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gadhafi one last chance to stand down before the international community takes military action to stop his slaughter of his own people.
“Moammar Gadhafi has a choice,” the president said.
The president pointed to the United Nations Security Council resolution that passed last night, saying it “lays out very clear conditions that must be met.”
The conditions are that “all attacks against civilians must stop. Gadhafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya.”
The president twice said that the “terms are not negotiable” and pledged that “if Gadhafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action.”
Throughout the president’s statement, he did everything he could to make the conflict seem as international as possible, The president is mindful that the American public is weary of war, and that the world community casts a skeptical eye at American plans to take military action against yet another Muslim country. The U.S. has very much been leading the charge behind the scenes, but the White House has deferred public action to the State Department and the United Nations, and has worked furiously to put a European and Arab face on the opposition to Gadhafi’s action.
Thus the president today referred in his brief remarks seven times to the Arab nations supporting the action and put any pending military action in a ‘we-are-the-world’ sort of context:
- “The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately,” he said.
- He said that “our British and French allies and members of the Arab League have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it.”
- The president also said that the US “will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians, including enabling our European allies and Arab partners to effectively enforce a no-fly zone.” He did not go into detail about what that “enabling” would mean.
- “This is precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear both the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law,” the president said.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that the U.S. would play a leadership role in whatever comes next, but he suggested that this would be a team effort. “American leadership is essential, but that does not mean acting alone,” he said. “It means shaping the conditions for the international community to act together.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling to Paris, France to meet with the European and Arab partners to discuss the next steps, the president said.
Gadhafi for his part was described as meeting demonstrators with an “iron first” and choosing “the path of brutal suppression. Innocent civilians were beaten, imprisoned and in some cases killed. Peaceful protests were forcefully put down. Hospitals were attacked and patients disappeared.” He quoted Gadhafi saying of the city of Benghazi that he would “have no mercy and no pity."
The president underlined to the American people that no US ground troops would be deployed and that the coalition would not use force to proceed “beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya.”
And why is the U.S. acting? The president gave many reasons.
“Here’s why this matters to us,” he said. “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Gadhafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”
In an echo of previous presidents, Mr. Obama said “the United States did not seek this outcome….There is no decision I face as your commander in chief that I consider as carefully as the decision to ask our men and women to use military force."
He concluded: “Our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong.”