Still, in effect, the president laid out an effort that is aimed at regime change in Libya – though not by military means. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will go to London for a meeting with the Libyan opposition and for consultations with more than 30 nations.
“These discussions will focus on what kind of political effort is necessary to pressure Qaddafi, while also supporting a transition to the future that the Libyan people deserve,” Obama said. “Because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.”
In his speech, Obama also ranged into ideas that might form a framework for an “Obama doctrine” – in effect, an approach to situations where US action is not imperative but desirable, in concert with the international community. These would be times, he said, “when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.”
“Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce,” the president said. “These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.”
“In such cases,” he continued, “we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.”
The American public is only modestly supportive of the Libya effort. A poll by the Pew Research Center released Monday found 47 percent of Americans say the US and its allies made the right decision to take military action in Libya, while 36 percent called it the wrong decision. Seventeen percent had no opinion. Usually, after the US commences military action abroad, there is a “rally around the flag” effect in public opinion. But the fact that less than half of Americans support the effort after such a short time shows that Obama needed to do more to make his case to the public.