Nightly News   |  March 21, 2011

War fatigue adds to criticisms of U.S. role in Libya

President Obama launched a military effort in Libya while on foreign soil in South America, leaving the White House even more open to criticisms that Congress was not consulted about whether participate in international intervention in Libya. NBC's Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell report.

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>>> like it or not, this operation is fraught with global and domestic politics. while this air assault was planned days and weeks in advance, the president launched this military effort while on foreign soil in south america . our chief white house correspondent, chuck todd , is traveling with him in chile. our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell , covering in washington . andrea, we'll start with you. i have to assume the big issues here where your bailiwick is concerned is end game . how does this end and who or what takes over at that point, if they have thought it through that far?

>> reporter: exactly. those are the questions that senior senators in both parties are raising tonight, brian . what is the diplomatic mission behind this military action . the administration says it's not targeting gadhafi, but the president has said gadhafi should go. if he doesn't go, won't the u.s. appear weak? they also say that in a tribal culture like libya , the administration does not know enough about the libyan opposition. are they opening the door for al qaeda or other terror groups to take hold there. they are also questioning the fact that the arab support seems to be wavering and asking if the u.s. is protecting civilians in libya , why isn't it also protecting civilians in yemen or bahrain. also today we should point out defense secretary robert gates arrived in russia and vladimir putin took that moment to slam the military strikes in libya , saying it was like a medieval crusade. those are fighting words clearly intended to incite the entire arab world . that was enough to draw a rebuke from russia's president, medvedev, but it does overshadow the trip.

>> chuck todd who's traveling with the white house in south america , chuck, given the fact that the machinery of the presidency can now move with the executive in a way it never did decades ago, is the criticism the president is getting from the other side, does it have to do with where he is physically or the aspects of this attack and how it was carried out?

>> reporter: well, brian , it has to do with the fact that they were caught a little bit off guard by how much criticism they're getting from members of congress. part of this is geographical. it would be a lot easier if the president were sitting in the oval office and a republican senator, like richard lugar , has a bunch of questions, he physically brings them in. yes, they were able to let them know on the friday before the president left what they were going to do but there wasn't real consultation. that's one aspect. there's some senior aides that admit it would be a lot easier if they were in washington and they could answer some of these questions before these senators went out there and started criticizing publicly. but there's another aspect here, brian . it's called war fatigue. afghanistan, that war is very unpopular, and the senators and members of congress are very sensitive to what are souring poll numbers. so the whole aspect of another war, another military operation in libya politically is tough for these guys to take.

>> not to mention the americans still on the ground in iraq tonight. chuck todd in south america , andrea mitchell in washington , thanks to you both.