The following is
an advance text of President Obama’s what President Obama should say in his speech to the nation, to be delivered at 7:30 pm tonight.
My fellow Americans, my predecessor in the White House never admitted that he made any mistakes, but I have come before you tonight to admit that I have erred in intervening in Libya, and I ask your forgiveness.
When I announced that I was planning to intervene, by imposing a no-fly zone and by attacking Muammar Qaddafi’s forces on the ground, my intention was to protect and defend civilians who were under attack. That was, and is, a laudable goal. And perhaps we did prevent many deaths in Benghazi, the Libyan city held by rebels. But the cost is too high, and though it’s too late to undo what’s already been done, I want to speak to you tonight about how to make this right.
I gave in, too soon, to those in my administration who argued that the United States has to enforce what’s called the “responsibility to protect.” That responsibility is a sacred one, indeed. But in this case, there’s simply too much evidence that we overreached.
By mobilizing our military against Libya, we unleashed the dogs of war in a way whose future is simply unpredictable. None of my advisers or our intelligence community can tell me what will happen next, so I’ve decided to end our involvement tonight. It’s one thing to say that we’ll bomb armored columns loyal to Qaddafi in defense of Benghazi, but what next? Do we expand the war? Do we provide air cover for the rebels’ offensive as it moves west toward Tripoli, the Libyan capital? Do we bomb Tripoli, if Qaddafi fails to surrender or flee? Do we arm the rebels? With tanks? Heavy weapons? Do we send advisers? No one has been able to answer these key questions for me.
Worse, in attacking Libya, we’ve killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of Libyan troops. You’ve seen photographs of long, armored columns reduced to burning hulks. We may never know how many people died under the coalition’s aerial bombardment, and I’ve asked for a full accounting. We don’t know whether civilians died, too, as the result of our bombing campaign. We took care to avoid hitting civilians. Undoubtedly, however, some civilians have also perished.
I know that some of you, especially among neoconservatives and liberal interventionists, wanted me to act because you feared a massacre in Benghazi. Perhaps we averted one. But so far, at least, there’s no evidence that Qaddafi’s forces are carrying out anything like genocide or mass killings on the scale of Rwanda or Srebrenica in the 1990s. It’s horrible that many Libyans have died. It pains us all. But they died in a civil war in which, as Secretary of Defense Gates has said, the United States has no vital interest. Our nation simply cannot take on the responsibility of using its military to take sides in civil wars. We can speak out, we can engage in vigorous diplomacy, we can isolate and sanction rulers who abuse their power. But America is not the world’s policeman, and it is not the arbiter of what’s right and wrong around the world. If we wage war in Libya, then why not Bahrain? Yemen? What about the millions who’ve died in Congo and Sudan? What about the Ivory Coast? Already, the New York Times is suggesting that we think about a no-fly zone in Syria.