WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is striving to explain why the U.S. is at war again — on a third front — as he resolutely defends the military campaign in Libya. His message in a speech to the nation at 5:30 p.m. MDT Mondayt: U.S. involvement this time is shrinking and isn't a precedent for further action as violence flows across the Middle East.
Obama's address was unlikely to specify how long the conflict might last or what the cost might be to a nation all but buried in debt.
"Our involvement is going to be limited, both in time and in scope," Obama said at a town hall earlier in the day. He had said over the weekend that the United States and allies had prevented a humanitarian catastrophe by stepping in to keep Moammar Gadhafi from a potential mass killing of those rebelling against him.
"I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Gadhafi 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," Obama said Saturday. "And it's our responsibility. This is one of those times."
Ahead of Obama's Monday night speech, the White House made clear that it does not view U.S. intervention in Libya as a precedent for involvement in other nations that hold strategic interest for the United States, from Syria to Bahrain to Yemen. Violent clashes are roiling the Middle East and North Africa.
"Each of them, frankly, is nationally motivated. It's not an international thing," said Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough. "So we don't get very hung up on this question of precedent because we don't make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent. We base them on how we can best advance our interests in the region."
For Obama, the speech offered an opportunity to make his points to skeptical lawmakers and a big television audience: why the U.S is involved in Libya, how the U.S.-led military campaign has progressed and what comes next.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who was silent last week about the Libyan operation, said on the Senate floor that Obama has failed to explain the mission.