In a statement largely representative of the Democratic response, Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), the House assistant minority leader, said Obama “made clear . . . that he acted in America’s values and interest and effectively led a limited and international effort supported by the Libyan opposition and the Arab league to do what he said we would do — stop Moammar Gaddafi’s deadly advance on his own people.
“As a result,” Clyburn said, “thousands of lives have been saved.”
But Republicans, though saying they were glad that Obama had directly addressed the nation on his Libya policy, argued that the president remained ambiguous about the length of the American commitment and his preferred endgame.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, “I didn’t see victory defined” in Obama’s speech.
“The president has said in one instance that Gaddafi’s got to go and regime change is the goal. If that’s the case, what are the elements that we need to see come into play to make that happen? What about the rebels? Who is it that we’re going to see step into the vacuum if it were to be created by Gaddafi’s exiting?” Cantor said. “There’s all kinds of unanswered questions right now, and hopefully the White House can come and brief members and we can begin to get some clarity.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Obama did not say explicitly that military operations would continue until Gaddafi’s ouster, something that McCain has said he supports.
“Ultimately, we need to be straight with the American people and with ourselves: We are not neutral in the conflict in Libya,” McCain said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “We want the opposition to succeed, and we want Gaddafi to leave power. These are just causes. And we must therefore provide the necessary and appropriate assistance to aid the opposition in their fight.”
Obama said that expanding the military mission to include regime change would splinter the Arab and European coalition behind the effort, which he warned would leave the United States bearing the brunt of the costs.
The president indicated that although he wants Gaddafi gone, a longer-term strategy involving sanctions and the threat of a war crimes indictment was in place to achieve that.
Asked Tuesday whether his concerns were addressed in Obama’s speech, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said, “Some of my questions were answered by the president, I think, but others were not.