x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Obama defends US policy on Libya

US president says the US and international community acted with 'unprecedented speed' to protect Libyan civilians, but at the same time, the US is to scale back its military involvement.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama, the US president, last night strongly defended his administration’s policy on Libya and said the US and the international community had acted with unprecedented speed to protect Libyan civilians from Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan leader.

“In just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilise 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.”

Col Qaddafi had ultimately forced the issue of military intervention, Mr Obama told a packed audience at the National Defence University in Washington, by pushing the offensive against the Libyan opposition.

“We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi… could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

At the same time, he announced that the US would be scaling back its military involvement over Libya. The US would relinquish command of the military operation on Wednesday, Mr Obama said, and control of operations would be transferred to Nato.

He reiterated that the US would not put troops on the ground, but rejected criticism from those who argued that the US should not have intervened at all.

“It’s 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. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”

Mr Obama also rejected criticism from those who had argued the administration had not gone far enough. History, Mr Obama said, is not on Col Qaddafi’s side, but he ruled out an attempt at directly overthrowing the Libyan leader. Invoking the occupation of Iraq, Mr Obama said his administration would not follow a policy of regime change.

“To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq,” the president said. "Regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”