Obama lays out rationale for war in Libya

Until now, President Obama has been reluctant to make a major speech on Libya. Now, he's scheduled to speak on the Libya mission Monday, previewed in his Saturday radio address.

Anja Niedringhaus/AP
Libyan rebels celebrate after taking the city of Ajdabiya, south of Benghazi in eastern Libya, Saturday, March 26, 2011. Libyan rebels regained control of the city after international airstrikes on Muammar Qaddafi's forces, in the first major turnaround for an uprising that once appeared on the verge of defeat.

In a preview of what could be one of the most important speeches of his presidency, President Obama says US military action in Libya has been “in our national interest,” that the mission is “clear and focused,” and that “countless civilians – innocent men, women and children – have been saved” as a result.

Obama is scheduled to speak to the nation about Libya on Monday evening from the National Defense University in Washington – something he’s been urged to do, especially by members of Congress who’ve felt left out of the decision to go to war in a third Muslim nation.

In his Saturday radio and Internet address, Obama laid out the rationale for US military action in Libya.

RELATED: UN resolution on Libya: Four ways it changes the conflict

As violent uprisings continued across the Middle East and northern Africa – most recently in Syria – Obama stressed that “the United States should not – and cannot – intervene every time there is a crisis somewhere in the world.”

But he said when a situation like Libya arises, and when other nations come together in a joint action, then the US should join the effort to prevent further tragedy.

"I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; 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," he said.

While the US continues to provide much of the firepower in the form of ship-launched cruise missiles and air attacks, NATO is in the process of taking over the lead role in enforcing the no-fly zone and arms embargo. Those take-over plans are expected to be completed Monday.

Canadian to head NATO effort

Canadian Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard is expected to head NATO's military effort in Libya. Still, the US will continue to be involved at the highest levels. While the Secretary General of NATO is Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark, NATO's top military commander is US Admiral James Stavridis.

In his radio address Saturday, Obama repeated his assertion that no US ground troops would be involved in Libya. At the same time, the US and its allies are considering whether to provide weapons to Libyan rebels, reports the Washington Post.

As the fight has see-sawed back and forth in some parts of Libya, the rebels reportedly made an important advance Saturday, regaining control of the eastern gateway city of Ajdabiya following international airstrikes against Muammar Qaddafi’s forces.

Until now, Obama has been reluctant to make a major speech on Libya. Doing so confirms the impression that – unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he inherited from the Bush administration – launching air and missile strikes in Libya was very much his decision. Administration officials have even resisted using the word “war,” preferring instead such antiseptic Pentagon jargon as “kinetic military action.”

Democrats raise questions

But even Democrats in Congress have raised questions about the US-led military action.

"I know the president carefully weighed all the options before taking this emergency action but now that our military has prevented an immediate disaster, I have very serious concerns about what this intervention means for our country in the coming weeks," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia. "Our military, and our budget, are stretched thin fighting two wars already, and I want to avoid getting into another conflict with unknown costs and consequences."

Others have urged the President to lay out the rationale for war in Libya – especially his view of how it will end. Obama’s assertion that Qaddafi “must go” has raised questions about whether regime change there – a step far beyond the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone and protecting civilians – may now be the ultimate goal.

“I think he needs to face the nation and tell the nation, and tell Congress, what the endgame is and how this going to play out,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday.

Top officials to brief lawmakers

Following Obama’s address to the nation Monday, top national security officials are expected to give a classified briefing to lawmakers on Wednesday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all expected to speak on the topic of “US Policies and Military Operations in Libya,” according to an invitation circulated to House members and obtained by Politico.com.

RELATED: Libya timeline – NATO now commands no-fly zone

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