Obama announced the start of operations in Libya with a low-profile audio message from Brazil, where he was traveling at the time. Monday night, he will use this first televised speech on the action to effectively announce that the U.S. leading role has ended.
NATO is set to take command of Operation Odyssey Dawn, as the campaign is called, and the overstretched U.S. military will fall back into a supporting role.
“The president will use this opportunity to answer the questions the American people have and that members of Congress have,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday. “There is complexity here that needs to be explained.”
Obama prefers live audiences to Oval Office addresses, and he will deliver his speech at 7:30 p.m. EST to a group of mid-career military officers at the National Defense University in Washington.
Administration officials have been reluctant to preview the speech, given that it is Obama’s first televised attempt to describe the U.S. interest in opening a third military front in a Muslim nation.
Whether Obama will seek to describe the swift changes unsettling the broader Middle East and North Africa and their long-term effect on U.S. interests in the region is unclear. Popular uprisings have already swept a pair of autocrats long allied with the United States from power in Egypt and Tunisia, and protests threaten a handful of other kings and unelected presidents, from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi.
Denis R. McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, told reporters at the White House Monday that Obama’s military intervention in Libya is not meant to serve notice to other regional leaders who are using violence to retain power.
Gaddafi’s specific threats against the people in rebel-held Benghazi made Libya different, he said, and made outside intervention more urgent than in other countries.
“I think it’s very important that we see each of these instances, as the president has said since the beginning in the region, as unique,” McDonough said. “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 make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region.”
“It is important,” he said, “to see each of these incidents as unique.”
But Obama’s policy in Libya and throughout the changing Middle East remains ambiguous.