March 20th, 2011
03:58 PM ET
RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) - As the massive bombardment of Libya continued for a second day over 5,000 miles away from here, President Obama delivered a speech that did not mention any specifics about the U.S. role in the military action despite Republican demands for him to better define the mission.
"We’ve seen the people of Libya take a courageous stand against a regime determined to brutalize its own citizens," Obama said in a 25-minute address that only briefly mentioned Libya.
"Across the region, we have seen young people rise up – a new generation demanding the right to determine their own future," added Obama. "From the beginning, we have made clear that the change they seek must be driven by their own people."
The speech came as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) released a sharply-worded statement in Washington pressing Obama to more clearly define the military mission for the American people.
"Before any further military commitments are made, the administration must do a better job of communicating to the American people and to Congress about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved," Boehner said in the prepared statement.
Instead Obama tried to frame the situation in Libya in the broader context of the change that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, and tied it to Brazil's own revolution in 1984 that eventually ended 20 years of military dictatorship here.
Obama noted that the U.S. and Brazil are two nations "who have struggled over many generations to perfect our own democracies" and he stressed similarly that the allies need to let the Arab World determine its own destiny.
"No one can say for certain how this change will end, but I do know that change is not something that we should fear," said Obama. "When young people insist that the currents of history are on the move, the burdens of the past are washed away. When men and women peacefully claim their human rights, our own common humanity is enhanced. Wherever the light of freedom is lit, the world becomes a brighter place."
Obama was speaking before a crowd of over 2,000 people at the famed Municipal Theater, which overlooks Cinelandia Plaza, where millions of peaceful protesters began a pro-democracy movement in 1984.
"That is the example of Brazil," said Obama. "Brazil – a country that shows that a dictatorship can become a thriving democracy. Brazil – a country that shows democracy delivers both freedom and opportunity to its people. Brazil – a country that shows how a call for change that starts in the streets can transform a city, a country, and the world."
Boehner noted in his statement that he agrees with Obama that it's "unacceptable and outrageous" for Gadhafi to attack his own people, and the Republican leader added the U.S. has a "moral obligation to stand with those who seek freedom from oppression and self-government for their people.”
But Boehner added that it's time for the White House to get much more specific about their military goals in Libya and how they will achieve them.
“The president is the commander-in-chief, but the administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America’s role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished," said Boehner.
A White House official did not return an e-mail request for comment on Boehner's comments.
Earlier on Sunday here in Brazil, Obama held a secure conference call with his national security team as the White House continued to try to project the image of a commander-in-chief keeping close tabs on the military action even as he continues this five-day tour of Latin America.
After starting in Brasilia on Saturday, Obama leaves Rio early Monday for Santiago, Chile and then wraps up the trip on Wednesday in San Salvador, El Salvador.
Obama held the secure conference call with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,
Also participating in the call were Chief of Staff William Daley and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, both of whom are traveling here with Obama.
A White House statement about the call said Obama received a briefing from General Ham on the U.S. military action in Libya "as part of the international effort to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973," passed last Thursday to enforce a no-fly zone and use any means necessary to stop Gadhafi from continuing to harm civilians.
"The President also discussed the ongoing military and diplomatic consultations taking place on the situation in Libya," said the White House statement. "The President offered his thanks and admiration to General Ham and asked that he communicate that to all of the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who are carrying out this operation."
As part of the diplomatic consultations, especially with Arab nations in order to demonstrate this is a broad coalition and inoculate the White House from charges the mission is anti-Muslim, Vice President Joe Biden also worked the phones on Sunday.
Biden spoke by phone with Prime Minister of Algeria Ahmed Ouyahia as well as Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, according to a White House statement.
"The Vice President discussed with both the Prime Minister and the Emir their mutual support for the full implementation of the resolution and the need to protect the Libyan people," said the statement.