By Sam Youngman - 03/18/11 11:02 PM EDT
President Obama said Friday the U.S. will take part in military action against Libya if leader Moammar Gadhafi does not end attacks on his own citizens.
Obama, speaking for the first time since the United Nations gave the green light Thursday for “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, said U.S. ground troops would not be deployed but that the U.S. would work with other countries to stop any military action by Gadhafi.
Obama said Gadhafi must stop killing his people and that his forces must pull back from rebel strongholds.
While Obama has authorized force, it remains to be seen how much of a role the U.S. will play in the enforcement of the United Nations resolution. The administration has sought throughout the period of unrest in the Middle East to avoid appearing as if the U.S. is intervening in Muslim countries.
The president's ultimatum was met with statements of support from leaders of both parties in Congress. Democrats commended the White House's multilateral approach, and one Republican expressed support while pointing out he had been calling for action for weeks.
“Like many Americans, I have watched the atrocities perpetrated by Moammar Gadhafi in horror, and that’s why I am pleased with the resolution passed by the United Nations," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. “I believe the broad multilateral approach the President laid out will greatly improve the effectiveness of our efforts."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he had heard Obama's plan at a White House meeting and liked what he heard. “I support the President’s announcement today," Rogers said in a statement. "Though I have been calling for a 'no fly zone' for weeks, we are now moving forward, and America is demonstrating leadership."
In his comments Friday, Obama sought to emphasize that while America’s military will play a critical role in the mission, the U.S. will only be part of the larger international effort.
“American leadership is essential, but that does not mean acting alone,” Obama said.
Great Britain, France and members of the Arab League had committed to taking a leadership role, the president said. He argued that this is "precisely how the international community should work, as more nations bear the responsibility and the cost of enforcing international law."
France and Great Britain both pressed for the resolution at the U.N., and the Obama administration was seen as arriving late in supporting the measure wholeheartedly on Thursday. Obama said that the two countries, along with the Arab League, were instrumental in winning the U.N. resolution.
Obama spoke after briefing members of Congress about the Libyan situation.
Gadhafi announced a cease-fire Friday morning in response to the U.N. resolution, but there were some media reports of continued fighting, and Gadhafi’s promise was met by skepticism from leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words, we would have to see actions on the ground and that is not yet at all clear,” Clinton said. “We will continue to work with our partners in the international community to press Gadhafi to leave and to support the legitimate aspirations of the Libyan people.”
Clinton is scheduled to fly to Paris on Saturday to confer with other world leaders about how to enforce the U.N. resolution.
Gadhafi’s forces have made significant progress in the last few weeks against rebels who at one point seemed on the verge of toppling him. Before the U.N. resolution, Gadhafi seemed on the verge of attacking a final rebel stronghold in the city of Benghazi.
Obama said Gadhafi had “lost the confidence of his people” and his legitimacy to lead.
“Instead of respecting the rights of his people, Gadhafi chose the path of brutal suppression,” Obama said. "Once more Gadhafi has a choice."
The embattled Libyan leader can meet the terms of the U.N. resolution or face the military might of the international community, the president said. "Ample warning was given that Gadhafi needed to stop his campaign of suppression or be held accountable."
The president closed by saying that “the United States did not seek this outcome” — that the U.S. and its allies “will not stand idly by in the face of actions" that undermine democracy and the rights of Libyans.
Any action in Libya would mean the U.S. military would be involved in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and in Libya. Obama said that made the decision on Libya "particularly difficult."
—Jamie Klatell contributed to this story.
This story was originally published at 3 p.m. and updated at 7 p.m.