During Chile visit, Obama defends Libya military action

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 10:00 AM

SANTIAGO, CHILE - President Obama on Monday defended his decision to deploy the U.S. military in Libya, saying the international community couldn't "simply stand by with empty words" in the wake of continued attacks by the Libyan government on civilians.

"The core principle that has to be upheld is that when the entire international community says that there is a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, we can't simply stand by with empty words," Obama said a joint press conference with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera at La Moneda Palace here.

Still on his tour of Latin America, Obama defended his authorizing U.S. military forces while on foreign soil. He said the military plans had already been developed with his involvement before he left Washington.

"Keep in mind we are working on very short time frames," he said in his first extended remarks on Libya since U.S. forces and coalition allies took action. "We had done all the work and it was just a matter of seeing how [Libyan leader Moammar] Gaddafi would react."

For Obama, the stop in Chile continues a busy five-day, three-country tour that has turned into a complicated juggling act as he holds conference calls with his national security advisers on Libya in between events with Latin American officials.

Obama aides refused to cancel the long-planned trip to this region, where the president had previously not made an extended visit during his tenure.

"I think what you're seeing today and in this trip is the importance that we place, and that the president places, on the relationships in the Americas," Dan Restrepo, the senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, told reporters in Brazil on Sunday. "The world obviously is a complex place, with a lot of things going on at once, but it's precisely that, a lot of things going on at once."

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