White House denies regime change is part of Libya mission

The White House strongly denied Tuesday that regime change is part of its mission in Libya, despite a statement earlier in the day that characterized the goal there as “installing a democratic system.”

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, issued a statement acknowledging that President Obama would like to see a democratic government in Libya, but explained that the aim of the U.S. military’s intervention there is not to enact regime change.

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“We're clarifying, as we’ve said repeatedly, that the effort of our military operation is not regime change, that as we actually say in this readout, it’s the Libyan people who are going to make their determinations about the future,” Rhodes said. “We support their aspirations, their democratic aspirations, and have stated that Gadhafi should go because he’s lost their confidence.”

Earlier on Tuesday, a White House-issued readout of a phone call between Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that installing a democratic system in Libya was a goal of the two leaders.

The statement said Obama and Erdogan had reaffirmed their support for implementation of United Nations security resolutions authorizing force in Libya. After noting that this would require a broad-based international effort, the statement said the two leaders “underscored their shared commitment to the goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country, by installing a democratic system that respects the people’s will.”

Rhodes said the unusual White House clarification came after reporting on the initial statement about the Obama-Erdogan call. The Hill had reported that the use of the world “installing” had suggested a U.S. goal in Libya was regime change.

The White House was emphatic Tuesday in insisting there was no change to the U.S. military mission. White House press secretary Jay Carney said in an e-mail earlier Tuesday that the military mission was clearly focused on protecting civilians. He also noted Obama's remark Monday that Gadhafi is no longer fit to lead.

Members of both political parties, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), have criticized the president for not clearly stating the aims of the U.S.'s military strikes in Libya and for not articulating those goals to Congress.

The U.N. has approved measures to protect civilians in Libya, and the U.S. has said the mission of its military is to do so. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said it is important for the militaries involved in air strikes in Libya to stay within the boundaries of the U.N. resolution.

At the same time, a strike on Gadhafi’s compound and statements from officials in other nations involved in the operation, have raised questions over the goals of the mission.

From the onset of the strikes against Libya, senior administration officials have said the goal is to create an atmosphere in which Libyan rebels would be able to oust Gadhafi from power.

Lawmakers have demanded that Obama better communicate his aims both with Congress and the public. Some members have even requested that a special session of Congress, which is currently in recess, be held to formally consider the military operation.

To address members' concern and fulfill his obligation under the War Powers act, Obama penned a formal letter to Boehner on Monday explaining those goals.

But Obama has struggled to reconcile the stated U.S. policy of wanting Gadhafi out of power with the U.N. mission of protecting the Libyan people.

This story was originally posted at 10:23 a.m. and last updated at 6:15 p.m.