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Obama: Libya mission necessary to protect 'common humanity'

President Obama says US military involvement in Libya prevented a massacre of civilians. He suggests that military action will remain limited and is not about regime change.

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“Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce,” the president said. “These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.”

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“In such cases,” he continued, “we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.”

The American public is only modestly supportive of the Libya effort. A poll by the Pew Research Center released Monday found 47 percent of Americans say the US and its allies made the right decision to take military action in Libya, while 36 percent called it the wrong decision. Seventeen percent had no opinion. Usually, after the US commences military action abroad, there is a “rally around the flag” effect in public opinion. But the fact that less than half of Americans support the effort after such a short time shows that Obama needed to do more to make his case to the public.

There was also no clear partisan breakdown in opinion, Pew found. Among Republicans, 54 percent agree with the military action, while 49 percent of Democrats agree. Among independents, 44 percent say military action was the right step.

Sixty percent of Americans think US action in Libya will “last for some time,” versus 33 percent who say it “will be over pretty quickly,” according to Pew. This, despite efforts by Obama and his administration to convince the public that the operation is limited. The poll found that Americans also aren’t clear on the aim of the mission. Forty-six percent say it should include Qaddafi’s removal while 43 percent say it should only include protecting Libyan civilians.

Despite the lack of partisan divide among the public over Libya, congressional Republicans reacted negatively to the president’s speech.

“The president’s focus on NATO’s leading role in the operation offered no assurance that American military men and women as well as American resources will not continue to play a very large part in the days to come – bravely taking part in a mission the president has still not clearly defined,” Rep. Tom Price (R) of Georgia, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, said in a statement. “Ultimately, President Obama’s speech tonight did not undo the concerns raised by his handling of America’s involvement in Libya."

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