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Obama insists actions in Libya serve US interests

Obama said he believes the public supports the mission. Obama said he believes the public supports the mission.
By Robert Burns
Associated Press / March 23, 2011

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WASHINGTON — The allied air assault in Libya will soon achieve the objectives of establishing a no-fly zone and averting a massacre of civilians by Moammar Khadafy’s troops, President Obama said yesterday, adding that the United States will hand off control of the operation to others within days.

“When this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone,’’ the president said at a news conference in El Salvador as he neared the end of a Latin American trip overshadowed by events in Libya. “It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily enforcing the arms embargo. That’s precisely what the other nations are going to do.’’

Despite the cost — not only in effort, resources, and potential casualties, but also in taxpayer dollars — Obama said he believes the American public supports the mission.

“This is something that we can build into our budget. And we’re confident that not only can the goals be achieved, but at the end of the day the American people are going to feel satisfied that lives were saved and people were helped,’’ he said.

The president also suggested the administration would not have to request funding from Congress for the air operations but would pay for them out of money already approved. Administration officials briefed lawmakers during the day about costs and other details to date.

Obama will fly home today, a few hours earlier than had been scheduled.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, said the administration is getting reports — of questionable credibility — that some in Khadafy’s inner circle may be looking for a way out of the crisis. She said individuals, allegedly acting on Khadafy’s behalf, have reached out to people in Europe and elsewhere to ask, in effect, “How do we get out of this?’’

“Some of it is theater,’’ Clinton said in an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “Some of it is, you know, kind of, shall we say game playing.’’ She added: “A lot of it is just the way he behaves. It’s somewhat unpredictable. But some of it we think is exploring. . . . And we would encourage that.’’

With congressional critics growing more vocal, the president defended the wisdom of the Libya operation so far.

“It is in America’s national interests to participate . . . because no one has a bigger stake in making sure that there are basic rules of the road that are observed, that there is some semblance of order and justice, particularly in a volatile region that’s going through great changes,’’ Obama said

With longtime autocratic governments under pressure elsewhere in the Arab world, the president made clear his decision to dispatch US planes and ships did not automatically signal he would do so everywhere.

“That doesn’t mean we can solve every problem in the world,’’ he said.

Several members of Congress were increasingly questioning the wisdom of US involvement.

“We began a military action at the same time that we don’t have a clear diplomatic policy, or a clear foreign policy when it comes to what’s going on in Libya,’’ said Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, adding that the Obama administration lacks a clear understanding of rebel forces trying to oust Khadafy, who has ruled for 42 years.

“Do we know what their intentions would be? Would they be able to govern if they were to succeed? And the answer is we don’t really know,’’ Webb said.

Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, said he would offer an amendment to the next budget resolution that would prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to fund US military operations in Libya.