WASHINGTON, DC -- President Barack Obama declared Monday night that the United States intervened to prevent a slaughter of civilians that would have stained the world's conscience and "been a betrayal of who we are" as Americans. Yet he ruled out targeting Moammar Gadhafi, warning that trying to oust him militarily would be a mistake as costly as the war in Iraq.
Obama spoke as, in Libya, rebel forces bore down Monday on Gadhafi with the help of airstrikes by the U.S.-led forces. His speech was his most aggressive attempt to answer the questions mounting from Republican critics, his own party and war-weary Americans -- chiefly, why the U.S. was immersed in war in another Muslim nation.
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 fast -- but offering no estimate on when the conflict might end and no details about its costs despite demands for those answers from lawmakers.
He declined to label the U.S.-led military campaign as a "war," but made an expansive case for why he believed it was in the national interest of the United States and allies to use force.
In blunt terms, Obama said the U.S.-led response had stopped Gadhafi's advances and halted a slaughter that could have shaken the stability of an entire region. Obama cast the intervention in Libya as imperative to keep Gadhafi from killing those rebelling against him and to prevent a refugee crisis that would drive Libyans into Egypt and Tunisia, two countries emerging from their own uprisings.
"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. He spoke in a televised address to the nation, delivered in front of a respectful audience of military members and diplomats.
"Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different," Obama said. "And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."
International military forces are using words as well as weapons to try to weaken the grip of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi and urge his troops to turn against him.
They are dropping leaflets targeting government troops as well as flying a U.S. propaganda plane that broadcasts to forces of the North African nation, U.S. military officials said Monday.
The message: Refuse to obey Gadhafi's orders, stop fighting, go home to your families.
Although each day the Pentagon reports the number of bombs it has dropped in the week-old Libya intervention, it has said little about the information campaign blanketing the country.