March 28th, 2011
10:27 PM ET

Obama's Libya speech: the highlights

President Obama's speech about U.S. military involvement in Libya lasted about 30 minutes and consisted of approximately 3,360 words.

If you missed it, here's what you need to know from the speech – all in "just" 1,350 words.

**please note: this is an edited down version of the president's speech, as prepared for delivery**

Good evening. Tonight, I’d like to update the American people on the international effort that we have led in Libya – what we have done, what we plan to do, and why this matters to us……

Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That is what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks. …….

For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant – Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world – including Americans who were killed by Libyan agents.

Last month, Gaddafi’s grip of fear appeared to give way to the promise of freedom. In cities and towns across the country, Libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights….Faced with this opposition, Gaddafi began attacking his people….

Ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered Gaddafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing, or face the consequences. Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi…At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice……

We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world. It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen.

And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973. We struck regime forces approaching Benghazi to save that city and the people within it…… And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gaddafi’s deadly advance….

To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians.

Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.

Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and No Fly Zone.  Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians. This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday.…..In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role…..Because of this transition….the risk and cost of this operation – to our military, and to American taxpayers – will be reduced significantly….

Despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya. Gaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Gaddafi does leave power, forty years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community, and – more importantly – a task for the Libyan people themselves.

In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all – even in limited ways – in this distant land….

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale….

Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action….

Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gaddafi and usher in a new government.

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake…

If we tried to overthrow Gaddafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs, and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.

To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya….

As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe. And no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform…. There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are……In such cases, we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.

As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.

My fellow Americans, I know that at a time of upheaval overseas – when the news is filled with conflict and change – it can be tempting to turn away from the world…….But let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe. We have done so because we know that our own future is safer and brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity.

Tonight, let us give thanks for the Americans who are serving through these trying times, and the coalition that is carrying our effort forward; and let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Topics: Libya • President Obama • The News

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. hsr0601

    Tunisia, Egypt, Libya Protests, and the likes, share one thing in common.

    It would boil down to unstoppable wave and movement of freedom.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  2. audrey papke

    Wonderful speech! We are the people.

    March 29, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  3. Elaine Buzzinotti

    I am a long time CNN fan, but was most frustrated with tonight's "covrerage " of the President's speech on Libya. In particular John King, normally a smart man and equally savvy Wolf Blitzer tortured us and their guests respectively with the same questions. I lost respect for their repetitious harranging of Fareed Zakaria and Wesley Clark, who both made outstanding and insightful comments on the speech. Bravo! More of them as commentators please particularly on this subject, and John and Wolf, how many times can you ask the same question? Situations like what is happening in the region are by definition fluid and to not appreciate nuances is incomprehensible. How can one expect an "exit strategy" while the situation is unfolding by the hour and not the day? You two sounded like GOP "plants" in your less than subtle criticism of the President not being more specific. it is not good for Americans, who have been "dumbed down" enought by the likes of black and white sound bite thinkers. You're better than that least I hope that this was an off night.
    As a political "junkie" I was so appalled by you two in particular that not only did it seem as if iwas in the movie "Groundhog Day," but I had to go to Law and Order re-runs just to settle down. And with that I'll rest my case.

    March 29, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Jay in NC

      The Democrats pounded President Bush for years, asking why he have entered two wars without an exit strategy. I is only true that we should ask the same of the Democrat President.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  4. Floyd Mills

    This was a perfect speech outlining the most intelligent path any US president could possibly take and have taken regarding intervention in Libya. There is no height of praise that overstates President Obama's valor in his approach to helping the world and the Libyan people in the past days. It was absolutely optimal. I am glad I am not a republican struggling to find some modicum of error in President Obama's choices to advance my own political position. I would open my mouth and whatever contradictory words seeped out would make me feel like an idiot.

    March 29, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  5. Tracy

    I was satisfied with the speach he said exactly what I felt this mission was about in the first place. I had no false ideas and knew the presidant would get critizided from all sides. He is is correct on being a true leader means to create a team a team than can work together and help bear the burden you can witness that in all successful corparations and grat sports team Duh and with this nato team I expect grat things in the world to happen as long as they stick together

    March 29, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  6. Eli

    Hypocrite! Now, that it suites his purpose he tells us that American's don't turn a blind eye to atrocities. He tells us that our own future is safer and brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. Really? Then why did we do NOTHING when there were mass protests in Iran in 2009? Why, when the people of Iran were asking for help & support, for the same freedoms that we say we support around the world, we sat on our hands, did NOTHING, said NOTHING! Hypocrisy at it's very best!

    March 29, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  7. Notfooled

    @ Eli--It was not President Obama who wanted to go in. He reluctantly did so after the UN decided to intervene. So your question should be to the UN. You can not blame everything on President Obama.

    March 29, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  8. Liz Carter in Georgia

    @Eli, evidently the UN nor CONRESS saw fit to intervene! We as 'blogging politicians', evidently didn't PUSH for intervention either! So who are REALLY the hypocrites? PRESIDENT OBAMA works, if at all possible within the boundaries of the law. AMERICA was put in mainly in support of the humanitarian crisis! 'He tells us that our own futures are safer and brighter....'? Well now, didn't GWB say just about the same thing when he pull down HUSSEIN? IRAQ was truly 'THE ILLEGALEST WAR OF THE CENTURY', PERIOD!

    March 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      Liz, please remind me again, just how was the war in Iraq illegal? Let's see, he got congress approval, some 80% of Americans were behind the war, oh yea, and the UN had approved the removal of Hussein.

      March 30, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
      • salvatore

        When did the UN approve anything other than sanctions? Or are we in FOX territory? "Following Sean Hannity's lead, The Washington Times falsely suggested that the United Nations supported President Bush's invasion of Iraq. In fact, the U.N. Security Council did not back Bush's invasion of Iraq, and then-Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested the invasion was 'illegal.'"

        April 1, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Hemo

      People seem to forget hitsory a lot these days. What? it was only 40 years ago that Psychologists at UC Davis declared homosexuality not a mental disorder? I know that has little comparison to what you were talking about but I'm smelling what you're stepping in.

      August 1, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Jeff19

    The connection for world Islamic terror somehow always can be traced back to Syria and Iran. Trouble is that we have a Wimp in Chief in the White House who was supposed to make things better with Iran and has only made it worse. And when Obama had the chance to help the Iranian people who were begging him for at least verbal support, he was on vacation and cared less. But when an ally of the US, Mubarak was in trouble, Obama ditched him under the bus just like he did his mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  10. Jeff19

    It was to halite a historically documented fact that almost all social and economic disaster in the past century and half, have been a direct result of lunatic leftist policies. See socialism, communism, Maoism..and all other isms. It is as if this (mostly lest educated lot) are convinced that hey know best.They are usually the noisiest in all political forums but once their planned policies fail they quickly move on to another bizarre set of actions. See their most recent hoax, Global Warming.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  11. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Jay, why are you saying DEMOCRATS are the only ones who were asking about an exit strategy? There were a few REPUBLICANS questioning the same thing. There was not 80% of AMERICANS behind that war and I mean from ANY party! We all wondered what in the hades was going on when we knew BIN LADEN wasn't there! Then early on we found out there were no WMDs! We found out that was just lies and trickery! We finally heard about the 'oil potential'! So what 80% of AMERICANS are you talking about? That's just lies!

    March 30, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      May 2003 A Gallup poll made on behalf of CNN and the newspaper USA Today concluded that 79% of Americans thought the Iraq War was justified, with or without conclusive evidence of illegal weapons.

      March 31, 2011 at 4:35 am |
      • salvatore

        Bush's administration was saying we couldn't wait for conclusive evidence because "the smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud." Of course people were for the war when Bush was saying in the SOTU to Congress that Saddam was buying uranium from Africa. Every justification Bush gave for the war at the time (the humanitarian aspect was not a factor) was proved false. All the intelligence was forged or extremely dubious, foreign governments said it, the CIA knew it, and if Bush didn't know it then there was a huge problem with his administration.

        April 1, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  12. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Yes, we sure did start asking when were we going to get our boys and girls back home! We weren't really asking for an 'exit strategy' persay; we just wanted to know when they were getting out of there; out of IRAQ, period! We didn't care about strategy, it could have been by any means necessary! The mission changed 2 or 3 times after there were no weapons; it became lets go get HUSSEIN; then let's stay here in these civil wars to protect the people! Let's go get this oil and money while we're here! COVERUP!

    March 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Jay in NC

      On March 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm, Liz Carter in Georgia said "Many past presidents have adjusted and re-adjusted earlier views and goals, once they become privvy to the full scope of all the information surrounding issues! "

      I guess you would have to say that President Bush was just readjusting earlier goals.

      March 31, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  13. HO-HO


    March 30, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  14. Liz Carter in Georgia

    @HO-HO, If you ran for president, and I listened to your plans and goals to make AMERICA a better AMERICA for it's citizens and they were GOOD; and especially if you were a DEMOCRAT, and was competing against a 'way of life' killing REPUBLICANT, I would vote for you! Whether I had read your books or not! Yes, I'm a card carrying DEMOCRAT, who did vote for REAGAN, OK? I saw just about all of his movies! LOL! Seriously, I vote for the man, mosttimes, not just the PARTY! I thought REAGAN was a good president!

    March 30, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  15. Tenzin saldon

    V salute da fighting souls who r determined2grant fresh air2those civilians in need. America!great initiative,alwaz,gr8!

    March 31, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  16. Liz Carter in Georgia

    Yes! That's what I'm saying! He wasn't the most competent anyway! The greedy, money-mongering system probably did draw him in on a view that wasn't clear to him of what the end results were going to be on the wars. All he saw was money, money, and more money! CHENEY was the BIG DOG! He sat down in his bunker and practically manipulated BUSH into doing whatever he wanted. CHENEY was PRESIDENT INCOGNITO since he was smartest; or at least the most well read! But BUSH was the PRESIDENT. The buck stops there!

    March 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  17. Liz Carter in Georgia

    The difference is even though many AMERICANS were against many of the BUSH/CHENEY decisions, especially the war ones, we ultimately went along with them because there wasn't much we could do about them. We could disagree until we were blue in the face, the cowboys went right on doing what they wanted to do! We didn't hear nor see media cycles pushing coverage of ANTI-BUSH pundits, contributors, analysts, even journalists, graphs and polls supposedly indicating AMERICAN intolerance to the decisions 24/7/365!

    March 31, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  18. California Conservative

    Obama's Libya speech: the highlights
    I didn't know there was any.

    April 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  19. Liz Carter in Georgia

    @salvatore; they have been trying to rewrite, smudge, erase, adjust, smooth-over, make right, justify, validate and refabricate mostly everything BUSH did when he was PRESIDENT! The media has been on a mission to send the perception to the masses that BUSH wasn't half bad. Everything he did, right or wrong was RIGHT ad legal! Everybody in the world knows that he didn't have UN approval to send our troops to IRAQ! They figure if they ease that lie out here long enough the masses will start to belive it!

    April 6, 2011 at 7:01 am |