Politics & Policy

Obama Speaks on Libya; Urges Defections

At a joint press conference with Mexican President Philipe Calderon, President Obama finally spoke again on the tumult and demonstrations in Libya. 

He began with the basic and obvious: 

My approach throughout the convulsions that have swept through the Middle East is, number one, no violence against citizens and, number two, we stand for freedom and democracy. And in the situation in Libya what you’ve seen is, one, violence against citizens and the active urging of violence against unarmed citizens by Qaddaffi and, number two, you have seen with great clarity that he has lost legitimacy with his people. So let me be very unambiguous about this. Colonel Qaddaffi needs to step down from power and leave. That is good for his country. It is good for his people. It is the right thing to do. 

He proceeded to something more interesting: 

Those around him have to understand that violence that they perpetrate against innocent civilians will be monitored and they will be held accountable for it. So to the extent that they are making calculations in their own minds about which way history is moving, they should know history is moving against Colonel Qaddaffi. And so their willingness to carry out orders to perpetrate violence is something they will be held accountable for.

I interpret this as basically a call for Egyptian military officers to defect.

He also seemed to defend his record so far against accusations that he has been milquetoast on Lilbya: 

We have already engineered the most decisive actions … freezing $30 billion in assets, imposing sanctions against those in the Libyan government who have been committing those crimes. And as a result of this leadership we have seen broad-based action in the international community.

Obama did not take the possibility of military intervention off the table (as Sec. Robert Gates seemed to yesterday) but suggested that all military action would be taken in consultation with international bodies: 

You are right that this could get bloody. So I want to make sure that the U.S. has full capacity to act rapidly if the situation deteriorated rapidly such that we had a humanitarian crisis on our hands, or if you had a situation where innocent citizens could not escape… But I think it’s very important however that we do this in consultation with the international community. 

He made a philosophical point about the need for the Libyan people to own their own revolution (which could have been taken straight from the NR editorial): 

We did not see anti-American sentiment arising out of that movement in Egypt precisely because they did not feel that we had tried to engineer or impose a particular outcome, but rather, they owned it. The same will happen in Tunisia. 

He argued that actually in terms of raw human suffering it seemed that the refugee problem was actually more of a crisis than those killed by Gaddafi’s army so far: 

We are looking at every option that is out there, in addition to the non-military actions that we’ve taken I want to make sure that the full range of options are available to me. Some of those are humanitarian. The biggest one right now is that we’ve got tens of thousands of people at the border, and they’ve gotta get home. And that’s why we’re using civilian aircraft and military aircraft to help them get there. There could be a situation where Gaddafi was hunkered down in a bunker, but there was a food crisis. 

And he concluded unequivocally: 

Throughout all this we will continue to send a clear message that it’s time for Gaddafi to go. 

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