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White House / WHITE HOUSE

Obama Defends Libya Policy in TV Interviews

In network news sit-downs, the president denies any 'Obama doctrine.'

President Obama addressed the nation on Monday night to explain the U.S. intervention in Libya. On Tuesday, he followed up by doing interviews with ABC, CBS, and NBC.(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Matthew Cooper
March 29, 2011

One day after his evening address to the nation about U.S. policy in Libya, President Obama sat for three television interviews to elaborate on what he sees as America’s interests and goals in the turbulent Middle East.

In a telling interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams, the president rejected the idea of an “Obama doctrine” that would guide when the U.S. would intervene on behalf of those rising up against repressive rule.

“As I indicated last night, I think it’s important not to take this particular situation and then try to project some sort of ‘Obama doctrine’ that we’re going to apply in a cookie-cutter fashion across the board. Each country in this region is different. Our principles remain the same,” Obama said.

 

“But Libya was a unique situation where a limited military intervention that had a strong international mandate and strong international participation could make the difference—life or death difference—for a lot of people. And in that situation, it made sense,” said the president. “That does not mean that somehow we are going to go around trying to use military force to impose or apply certain forms of government.”

Obama rejected charges that he had not adequately consulted with Congress and dismissed any comparisons with his charge that then-President George W. Bush did not seek adequate approval for the Iraq war from Congress.

“Well, keep in mind that we had to move quickly to save lives. [Muammar el-]Qaddafi’s forces were on the edge of Benghazi. I consulted with a bipartisan group including the speaker of the House, including the Republican leader in the Senate. And made sure that they knew this was a possibility that might take place, but we might have to move quickly.”

Obama described America as having a “tool kit” where sometimes military options made sense and in other cases, such as the Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, it was not practical.

In an interview with CBS News’s Erica Hill, Obama waxed confident that Qaddafi will understand that his regime’s days are numbered.

“Well, I think that Qaddafi’s camp, people around him are starting to recognize that their options are limited and their days are numbered. And so, they’re probably reaching out to a range of different people. But that information may not have filtered to Qaddafi yet,” Obama said. “And I think it’s too early for us to start having formal negotiations. Qaddafi knows exactly what he needs to do to stop the constant bombardment that he’s under. And it may at some point shift to him figuring out how to negotiate an exit. But I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”

Hill pressed the president about reports that many of the Libyan rebels are actually hostile to U.S. interests. Obama insisted that any rebels who have met with U.S. officials “have been fully vetted. So, we have a clear sense of who they are. And so far, they’re saying the right things.”

But he added that he’s fully aware that Qaddafi’s opposition may include “elements that are unfriendly to the United States and our interests.” That is why, he said, “it’s important for us not to jump in with both feet, but to carefully consider, what are the goals of the opposition? What kind of transition do they want to bring about inside of Libya? Because our main concern here is the Libyan people as well as stability in the region.”

Speaking with ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, Obama said he was looking to God as he made his policies.

“I am praying that I’m making the best possible decisions, and that I’ve got the strength to serve the American people well,” he said.

In his interview with Sawyer, the president pushed back against critics who took issue with him filling out a bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

“You know, a lot of folks focused on the fact that I filled out my bracket,” he said. “Obviously I hadn’t been spending that much time studying it, since I don’t have anybody in the Final Four.”

Obama gave the trio of interviews in New York City, where he was dedicating the new United States Mission to the United Nations. The building is named after late Clinton-era Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who died in a plane crash over the Balkans. Brown hailed from a prominent Harlem family and had close ties to New York. Speaking at the dedication, former President Bill Clinton said that Brown would have approved of America’s actions in Libya.

 

George E. Condon Jr. contributed contributed to this article.

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