President Obama said he is concerned "absolutely" that Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi might prevail against rebels, but he also said the U.S. and its allies would continue to seek options to push the dictator from power.
"We're going to have to continue to apply pressure," Obama told reporters at a press conference on Friday. "It is in the U.S. interest and in the interest of the Libyan people that Qaddafi go," he added. "We are going to take a wide range of options to make that happen." He also said that he had to weigh the costs and benefits of any military action against Qaddafi's forces.
Pressed as to whether the U.S. was acting rapidly enough in the wake of mounting evidence that Qaddafi is brutalizing innocent civilians, Obama said that the U.S. and its allies “have moved about as swiftly as an international coalition as ever moved.” He noted that NATO would meet on Tuesday to consider imposing a no-fly canopy over Libya, a move that would commit the U.S. to take up arms against another country.
“I do take very seriously making sure that any decisions I make about using U.S. military power are well thought-through,” Obama said.
He disclosed that the U.S. government would send an envoy to meet with Libyan opposition groups. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will also be meeting with opposition leaders on her Mideast trip next week.
Speaking hours after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the president pledged "whatever assistance is needed." Addressing the tsunami potential in the United States and its territories, he said, "We are taking this very seriously."
Obama said the U.S. embassy in Japan had moved its operations to another site and that the U.S. military was trying to account for all of its personnel in Japan. Obama also said that a second American aircraft carrier was being dispatched to Japan to join the one already stationed there.
The president was awoken at 4:00 a.m. by White House Chief of Staff William Daley and briefed on the disaster. The U.S. offered assistance to Japan as the island nation began to count the numbers of dead and wounded and take toll of the physical damage. Back in the U.S., Obama said, federal authorities continue to monitor the potential for tsunamis in Hawaii, the West Coast, and America’s Pacific territories, and the president added that anyone ordered to evacuate should do so.
The Japanese disaster comes at a tumultuous time for the president who must respond to a wave of unrest across the Arab world—most notably Libya, which has all but descended into civil war—and at home where Republicans are challenging his spending priorities and trying to undo his more hard-fought legislative gains, most notably health care.
If that weren't enough, gas prices are spiking, which was the original reason Friday's press conference was called. Obama said his administration was taking a number of steps in the short run, including considering tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve "should the situation demand it." He also said the global community "can manage supply disruptions like this."
But, he said, the economy is better prepared to absorb an oil price shock than it was several years ago. “Today, we use 7 percent less oil than we did in 2005. We’re efficient. We’re adapting. We’re producing more oil and we’re consuming less,” he said. He then called on Congress to pass comprehensive energy reform, saying Americans are “tired” of Congress acting in the short term. “When prices go back down, we slip back into a trance. When prices go up, we’re shocked,” he said.
Responding to remarks by the State Department’s chief spokesman that the Pentagon’s treatment of Bradley Manning, who is suspected of providing classified cables to Wikileaks, was “counterproductive and stupid,” Obama disclosed that he had asked the Defense Department whether the conditions of Manning's detention were appropriate, and said that the Pentagon “assured me that they are."
"I can’t go into details about some of their concerns," Obama added. "But some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.” Manning's lawyers have insisted that the alleged leaker was never a suicide risk and so should not have to endure extreme isolation.
On budget negotiations, Obama checked in as present, saying that both Democrats and Republicans have to compromise but warning Republicans not to attach legislation on social issues to budget bills.
“If Republicans are interested in social issues they want to promote, they should pull a bill on the floor of the House and promote and send it over to the Senate," Obama said, "but don’t try to use a budget as a way to promote a political or ideological agenda.”
The president added that Democrats had already met Republicans halfway, and that “it shouldn’t that complicated” to find middle ground now that both sides that seen their “maximalist” versions fail to pass.