WASHINGTON — Defending the first war launched on his watch, President Barack Obama declared Monday night the United States intervened in Libya to prevent a slaughter of civilians that would have stained the world's conscience and "been a betrayal of who we are." Yet he ruled out targeting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, warning that trying to oust him militarily would be a costly mistake.
Obama announced that NATO would take command over the entire Libya operation on Wednesday, keeping his pledge to get the U.S. out of the lead but offering no estimate on when the conflict might end.
He never described the U.S.-led military campaign as a "war" and gave no details on its costs, but he offered an expansive case for why he believed it was in the national interest of the United States and allies to act.
In blunt terms, Obama said the response had stopped Gadhafi's advances and halted a slaughter that could have shaken the stability of an entire region.
"To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and — more profoundly — our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are," Obama said. "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."