President Obama Pledges No Troops in Libya


In a televised address this week, President Obama defended US intervention in Libya and promised to hand over leadership of the "No Fly Zone" and Libyan humanitarian efforts to NATO by Wednesday. He proclaimed the tactical objectives of the "No Fly Zone," authorized by the UN security council, a success, having reversed Libyan leader Gadaffi's declared intent to show "no mercy" and annihilate the popular rebellion against the 40 year dictatorship.

He defended the UN intervention, which includes participation from the UK, France, Italy and some Arab League partners, on both strategic and humanitarian grounds.

To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners....Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America's role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.

The president declared that a large scale, "horrific" massacre of the Libyan opposition would destabilize democratization efforts in both Egypt and Tunisia, overwhelm their own fragile reconstruction efforts with thousands of refugees, and give a nod to dictators that repressive methods were an acceptable solution to the democratic upsurge. That upsurge, he argues is the best hope for future Mid-East stability and progress.

A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful – yet fragile – transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security.

On the humanitarian side, the scale of carnage he envisioned as a consequence of Gadaffi's use of air power and mass murder against his opponent would dwarf similar repressive efforts noted in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. To those who argue moral and political (and oil-interest) biases and inconsistencies, the president was straightforward:

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action.

He argued that in this particular country – Libya – at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale; "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." And, he added, "We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground."

The president was emphatic about distinguishing the international effort from "regime change" schemes which have had a poor record of success after 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.

Navigating the management of both humanitarian efforts, the economic isolation and arms boycott against Gadaffi, and neutralizing his military domination without putting troops on the ground, or "taking over" the revolution will be a lengthy and complex process, he admitted, but restated his pledge to not go down the Iraq road:

The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change. Only the people of the region can do that. But we can make a difference.

To critics who favored further negotiation and diplomacy instead of military intervention, Obama argued that all diplomatic, third-party, efforts were effectively exhausted once Gadaffi reneged on his "cease-fire" claim by deploying air power and other atrocities against his own people.

The president close with a defense of "American ideals":

Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership.

Those lofty sentiments are, of course, complicated and marred by the record of interventions and imperial policies that dominated the cold war years, both Gulf wars and Afghanistan; most of the dictators in the developing world, including till recently, Gadaffi, have been "friends" to US foreign policy. Nonetheless, President Obama has made a promise to steer a different course, admitted (for a President, a rare thing) some past blunders, and thus gives hope that we, and the peoples of the world, can find a common destiny.

Photo: White House

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • Many news outlets have reported that U.S. special forces are already on the ground in Libya. Do an internet search on the topic and see for yourself.

    Posted by Mark, 04/03/2011 8:42pm (7 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments