President Barack Obama is resisting pressure to deliver an Oval Office speech explaining his policy on Libya — in part, because he doesn’t want to equate what he regards as a smaller, time-limited mission with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Administration officials haven’t ruled out a big speech, but Obama is reluctant to make a major address on Libya until the United States hands over most command and combat duties to its allies.
That’s not to say the president won’t talk about Libya over the next few days, aides say, but he’s not likely to succumb to pressure to deliver a long, explanatory address to outline his elusive endgame to the nation until the path ahead becomes clearer.
There were signs that might come sooner rather than later on Thursday. For the first time since combat operations began, the vast majority of flights over Libya on Thursday were conducted by U.S. allies, a sharp contrast to the previous 24 hours when American planes flew the majority of missions.
And NATO member nations on Thursday evening approved a plan under which the alliance will assume command of the no-fly zone over Libya.
“We are already seeing a significant reduction in the number of U.S. planes involved in the operation as the number of planes from other countries increase,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after the decision by NATO. “Today we are taking the next step. All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protections mission.”
Clinton’s reassuring assessment masked a ferocious round of last-minute negotiations, culminating in a four-way call between Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Turkey on Thursday afternoon that sealed a preliminary deal.
“This was a hard diplomatic battle,” a senior administration official said. “Building consensus among 29 nations is never easy.”
Whatever happens, Obama is intent on putting the U.S. in the back seat. As part of an effort to downplay the scope of U.S. involvement, administration officials have flatly refused to call the enforcement of the Libyan no-fly, no-drive zone — which has included the launch of more than hundred cruise missiles and dozens of U.S. aircraft sorties — a “war.”
It is “a time-limited, scope-limited military action,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday. …