(Photo: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
U.S. President Barack Obama pointed to humanitarian concerns in defense of his decision to support military action in Libya during a televised speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. on Monday evening.
Obama has been under pressure, especially from members of Congress, to explain the motive and mission of the U.S. in taking a large role in the air strike against Libya. The United States has fired nearly 200 Tomahawk missiles in Libya, which alone has cost between $250 million and $300 million.
“There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened but our interests and our values are,” said Obama. “These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us…and in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.”
Since last month, over a thousand people have died in the bloody rebellion against Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi, who has ruled with an iron fist for over four decades.
During Obama’s speech, he emphasized that Gaddafi had called the rebels “rats” and had a long history of murdering “opponents at home, and abroad.”
"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."
The president also cited the international community’s response to the “looming humanitarian crisis” in the North African nation.
“As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action,” Obama said. “Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves.”
On Saturday, French warplanes successfully halted Gaddafi’s advance in rebel-held territory. British and U.S. warships launched over 140 long-range tomahawk missiles at military targets in Misurata and Tripoli. A building within Gaddafi’s compound was hit, though the Pentagon denies that the Libyan dictator is actively being targeted.
Emboldened by airstrikes, rebels launched a counter-offensive from their stronghold at Benghazi, driving back pro-Gaddafi forces in a westward push toward the Libyan capital of Tripoli. On Monday, the rebels massed around Gaddafi’s birthplace in Sirte, a town noted both for its symbolic significance and strategic value. Rebels will have a clear road to Tripoli should they succeed in taking the town. If not, a stalemate between rebel and government forces will likely occur.
Obama announced last Wednesday that the U.S. will soon shift operational leadership to NATO command, but offered no estimation as to when the Libyan conflict will end.
Conservative evangelical leaders in America have largely been supportive of the cause for military action, but have criticized the speed of Obama’s response to the crisis.
“At least in the end we’re doing the right thing,” said Richard Land, president on Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, on his weekly radio program. “I just hope and pray that it is not too late because Gaddafi murdering his fellow citizens, butchering them – it’s what the world looks like without U.S. leadership.”
On the Breakpoint webpage, the ministry’s founder Chuck Colson said that the international show of force must reflect “the Christian just-war tradition.”
“It order to be just, a military action must be for a just cause and done for the right reason . It must be waged by a legitimate authority as a last resort,” Colson wrote. “I can’t imagine a more just and proportional response to the massacre of innocent people than to establish a no-fly zone. So, I was mystified and chagrined by our nation’s inaction.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, however, U.K. evangelicals voiced concerns that the Libyan conflict may escalate into “another Iraq.”
“We recognize that there are vastly differing attitudes to war among Christians but war is always regrettable and must be seen as a last resort,” said Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance in Britain. “We ask that the current UN campaign does not go beyond its mandate and that civilian lives are protected in every possible way.”
But not all evangelicals have been caught up in the political implications of the armed conflict in the oil-rich nation. Open Doors, a ministry that monitors persecution against Christian believers, voiced concern for Libya’s Christian minority whose plight has mostly been ignored by the world’s media.
“With all that is going on in Libya, it is vital that we pray for Christians in this region,” said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. “It is a dangerous time for all citizens in Libya, but especially for the minority Christian population. Please pray that the Lord would protect them during this treacherous time.”