IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Monday, March 28th, 2011, 7p show

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guest Host: Chuck Todd

Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, Pat Buchanan, Savannah Guthrie, Katrina Vanden Heuvel

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  The president speaks.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.



TODD:  Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd, in tonight for Chris Matthews, who‘s on assignment in Israel.

Leading off: making the sale.  One half an hour from now, President Obama will give what will likely be one of his last best chances to explain to the country why we‘re fighting in Libya, what is the end game, how do we get out, how big a role will the U.S. play from here on out, and how important is it that Gadhafi goes.  And did how we wind up fighting in a country that even the president‘s own defense secretary said on Sunday is not a vital U.S. interest.

This much is clear: the president feels he has not yet made the sale to the American people support to U.S. involvement is tepid and it‘s not likely to get stronger if the fighting drags on.

Tonight, we‘ll look at what the president needs to say and at the big stakes for him politically, if the effort in Libya goes bad.

And then at 7:30 Eastern Time, we‘ll bring the president‘s speech live from the National War College here inform Washington, D.C.

But let‘s begin with NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.  And, of course, “The Huffington Post‘s” Howard Fineman, who is an MSNBC political analyst.

Andrea, I want to start off, because we‘re all trying to talk about what is it that the president must say?  He‘s actually said a lot on Libya over the last week.  Here are a couple of clips.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When someone like Gadhafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives, then it‘s in our national interest to act.


MATTHEWS:  That was the radio address on Saturday.  Here‘s what he said in South America last week about why we‘re there.


OBAMA:  Our military action is in support of an international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Gadhafi to his people.  Now, I also have stated that it is U.S. policy that Gadhafi needs to go.  And we‘ve got a wide range of tools in addition to our military efforts to support that policy.


TODD:  Andrea Mitchell, he has said a lot on Libya.  So, what hasn‘t he said that he needs to say tonight?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  He hasn‘t addressed the American people and done this in a sort of logical way to explain why it‘s in the U.S. interest, and particularly with Secretary Gates saying it‘s not a vital interest of the United States.

How does this differ?  And I don‘t think he‘s going to address this tonight.  I think he wants to be deliberately ambiguous about this—but, why is this in the United States interest to protect civilians, the humanitarian mission and not what‘s happening in Syria, to protesters?  Why it‘s not in our interest to protect the protesters in Yemen or in Bahrain?

So, that case has not been made.  And I don‘t think he‘s going to be able to make that case tonight.

TODD:  Howard Fineman, what‘s the message that he has to send?  If this speech is basically an attempt to get—to speak above the filter, because the filter hasn‘t been good to him the last week when it comes to Libya—what is it that he‘s got to say to the American public to reassure them on this issue?

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you alluded earlier to the polls and the fact—and the fact, is, Chuck, that—in the Gallup Poll, only 38 percent of independent voters support military involvement in Libya.  That is an amazing low number.  There hasn‘t been anything like nit the last 30 years.  So, that‘s who he‘s addressing.

And what he has so to say is: this is going to be short, sharp and focused.  We‘re in there to try to keep order, to prevent chaos, to topple Gadhafi if we can, not be involved in a civil war and get out, no ground troops, et cetera.  He‘s got to address those independent voters and assure them that this is not some sweeping new doctrine.

You know, he‘s going to avoid the doctrine talk, I think.

TODD:  Right.

FINEMAN:  And this isn‘t a sweeping thing, this is a surgical thing. 

That‘s the case he‘s got to make tonight.

TODD:  And, you know, what Howard brings up—I heard the same thing that you‘re not going to hear a big—there‘s not going to be a big policy speech in the Middle East, and about what this wave of revolution that‘s taking place.

MITCHELL:  Exactly.

TODD:  And—but there will be a little bit of valedictory to hear about what‘s been accomplished as far as the narrow U.S. mission.  But he is speaking for 20 minutes.  So, there‘s going to be some expansion here.

MITCHELL:  Well, first off all, they can say—they can point to this pride to the fact that they have an international coalition.  They have the Arab League‘s endorsement.  That‘s what won them the U.N. resolution.  That, in fact, NATO did sign on to the expanded civilian protection mission yesterday so that now the NATO print of, you know, the imprimatur of NATO is on this.

But at the same time, what‘s the subtext?  NATO is us.  We are NATO.

TODD:  Right.

MITCHELL:  And the fact that more of the missions have been carried out in the last 24, 48 hours by coalition forces than American forces.  It was front loaded.

TODD:  Sure.

MITCHELL:  Those are all good talking points for the president, but we are still in there.  And as any foreign policy expert would tell you, we own it.  This is the pottery barn analogy of Colin Powell.

TODD:  And, Howard Fineman, speaking of owning—at this point, does the president own Gadhafi‘s future?  And what I mean by this, is he—is he now almost invested in Gadhafi going?

FINEMAN:  Oh, I think he definitely is.

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.

FINEMAN:  But there‘s no easy choices here, as Andrea knows better than I.  If Gadhafi goes, it‘s almost a more complicated situation than if he stays because the president has to assure the American people that we‘re not getting involved in a ground war or a civil war among people that we don‘t really know and with sides that we can‘t really be that sure of.  So, you know, it‘s a tough situation, having gotten involved, getting out is not going to be easy.  But that‘s the case he has to make tonight.

TODD:  Howard, you‘re providing a great segue.  Andrea has this interview with Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, on this very issue about what happened after Gadhafi in Libya.

Let‘s take a listen.


GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FMR. DIR. NAT‘L SECURITY:  Let‘s assume that he leaves.  And I think that‘s the only way we get to phase two is if he leaves.

Now phase two is a very difficult part.  How do you take a society that frankly has had four decades of the destruction of all elements of civil society and try to construct a meaningful government out of that?  We take an operational and ethical responsibility for the final outcome here that wasn‘t ours two weeks ago.


TODD:  That sounds like he‘s saying, look, at some point, the United States is responsible for a form of nation-building.

MITCHELL:  And when we say the president is going to try to make an argument—this is short, this is sweet, we‘re in, we‘re out, we‘re not in on the ground—but the bottom line is, that we have taken sides in a civil war.  They were losing and now they‘re not losing.  Now, the rebels are winning.

And that is only because of the air cover and the actual attacks on the ground because now we‘re bringing the A-10s.  This is going to attack tank formations.

TODD:  And, Andrea, what‘s happening tomorrow in London with this NATO meeting?  There are some Libyan opposition groups that are going to be represented there.  What is the point of this conference going forward?

MITCHELL:  I think the point of the conference is going to be to talk about the next step, the government that would take over, to try to give it some legitimacy.  And you‘re going to have, as you had a conference call today with President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, Sarkozy from France and Cameron from the U.K. this is the alliance together, also meeting with Jebril, the head of the political arm of the opposition of the rebels—to try to say there is something to turn to.  We are just going to have a vacuum after Gadhafi.

TODD:  And, Howard Fineman, I want to ask you about the setting tonight.  It‘s 7:30, not 8:00.  It‘s not quite prime time.  It‘s not the Oval Office.  It‘s the National Defense University.

What‘s the subtle message that you feel like the White House is trying to send back?  They‘re not fully capitulating to the Beltway criticism, right?  They‘re not fully going Oval, fully going prime time.  They‘re sort of one step in here.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Well, this is supposed to not be a prime time war.  I mean, I think that‘s the message.  You‘re so right, Chuck.  And I think Barack Obama—the president can only hope that‘s the case because the American people are probably out there thinking, you know, wait a minute, this all kind of sounds familiar to us.  You know, America takes the lead, then there‘s NATO coalition, then there‘s nation-building and there‘s some leader we supposedly like as opposed to the one we didn‘t like.

I mean, this is sounding like—to a lot of American people obviously, judging from the polls—like a little bit like Iraq, a little bit like Afghanistan.  So, the American people out there quite skeptical, saying, well, wait a minute, this sounds like what we‘ve seen before, even if you‘re not speaking from the Oval Office.

TODD:  Now, Andrea, the White House will say, yes, we know about Iraq and Afghanistan, but we want you to say this sounds like Bosnia, Kosovo and what happened in the late ‘90s and the interventions that were done there.  They believe that is a successful model.

How—fact-check them on this.

MITCHELL:  Well, the fact is it took a long time and there were massacres that preceded President Clinton acceding to -- 

TODD:  Took him years to get to that point.

MITCHELL:  Years and years to get to that point in Bosnia.  So, they do not want this to be as full scale as Bosnia and Kosovo.  That would be a much bigger bar than this—what they hope this would be.

By the way, if they were to do this prime time at 8:00, they‘d be bumping the tribute to George Herbert Walker Bush and volunteerism at one network, NBC.  That wouldn‘t be nice.

TODD:  It wouldn‘t be.

You know, Howard Fineman, I want you to react to another clip here.  This was Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton on why the—on answering the question about this idea of why is Libya in the national interest.  Let‘s take a listen.  It‘s from “Meet the Press.”


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  No, I don‘t think so it‘s a vital interest to the United States.  But we clearly have interest there, and it‘s a part of the region, which is a vital interest to the United States.

DAVID GREGORY, MODERATOR, “MEET THE PRESS”:  I think a lot of people will hear that and say, well, that‘s quite striking.  Not in our vital interest, and yet, we‘re committing military resources to it.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  Then it wouldn‘t be fair as to what Bob just said.  Did Libya attack us?  No, they did not attack us.  But what they were doing and Gadhafi‘s history and the potential for the disruption and instability was very much in our interest as Bob said and seen by our European friends and Arab partners as very vital to their interests.


TODD:  There‘s a lot of nuance here, Howard.  You‘ve got the fact that both Tunisia and Egypt are fragile states right now, trying to become democracies.  That is something the president himself cited as one of the rationalization.  You heard Hillary Clinton talk about this is of big interest to Europe, frankly more so than the United States.

All of these nuanced arguments—can the president do nuance tonight with the American public?  Or is he going to have to create these phony black and white aspects to this war because it‘s easier to sell?

FINEMAN:  First of all, I wish I had been able to be in the green room afterwards where, you know, Secretary Gates dropped the bomb, saying, you know, it‘s not in our vital interest and Hillary really came in there and tried to clean it up.

TODD:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  You know, I think that he can‘t be complicated about this.  He just can‘t because the American people need to be assured that this isn‘t going to be another long time, big time involvement.  And they‘re very ambivalent about the idea that it‘s up to us to rearrange the map of the Middle East in some way.  You know, the whole crescent from Morocco to Iran, are we going to say that we‘re going to survey everything?  Syria, look, there are serious things happening in Syria.

TODD:  That didn‘t work out well for the Brits when they tried to do it.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  And so, that‘s sort of what‘s behind all this.  And I don‘t think the president dare wander into something that deep tonight.

TODD:  All right—Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, I‘ve got to leave it there.  This is going to be a fascinating speech to watch.  And who knows, every week is a month it seems these days in the—in world history.

All right, coming up, Libya in 2012.  Does failure in Libya hurt President Obama more than success in Libya helps him?  We‘re going to get in to the political stakes for the president for tonight and beyond.

You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL as we await a presidential address on Libya coming up at the bottom of the hour.


TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The president is set to speak to the nation about the mission in Libya at the bottom of the hour.  His decision to intervene there has created a whole new set of political risks.  As he starts to gear up for 2012, will failure in Libya cost him more politically than victory would help him?

Earlier, I spoke with “The Nation” magazine‘s editor-in-chief Katrina Vanden Heuvel and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.


TODD:  Katrina, let me start with you. What do you need to hear from the president tonight about Libya that you have not heard from him over the last two weeks?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION:  A plausible exit strategy.  I mean, I think going to the Security Council to the United Nations and getting a mandate to protect civilians was a worthy step.  But we are now in many ways engaged in a civil war.  If this is going to be a protracted, long civil war intervention, I think it‘s going to be very costly to this country, to the president and to America‘s role in the region.

So, I think the president needs to lay out very clearly moving forward what our priorities are.  And I believe in America which now may be involved in two quagmires—one in Afghanistan and one in Libya—needs to find a way out because we are a country that needs nation-building at home.  And a way out of what the president has said is a time limited action.

TODD:  Right.

Well, Pat, I want to put up some interesting poll numbers here about where the public is on these interventions.  And, you know, the conventional wisdom is, the public is always most supportive at the beginning.  That was true early on after the first Iraq War.  But if you look at this, and it was true right after 9/11.

But this one, only 47 percent approve in the Gallup Poll.  That‘s still more than 32 percent disapproved of this action.  And when you break down the numbers, Pat, it goes what to Katrina just said about nation-building at home.  Democrats approved of it, a majority of Republicans approved of this.  But it was independents in the middle who, a plurality disapproved of this.

Do you think this has to do with the bad economy?  That it doesn‘t help making people think what are we doing in Libya when we‘ve got problems here at home?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think what it is it‘s—we‘ve had this two interventions, Afghanistan and Iraq.  And they were enormously popular at the beginning.  Both Bushes were up around 90 percent and then it faded.

But what we got here, Chuck, is the country didn‘t want to go into Libya.  This is Obama‘s war now and Obama has to win it.  He can‘t walk away from this if Gadhafi still in power where he‘s risking another Lockerbie.  And he will excruciated quiet frankly and crucified if he does.

I think if he wins this war, I think his polls will go up.  But he‘s got a hellish problem as Katrina pointed out.  These rebels didn‘t win this war.  The Americans are winning the thing for it.  They can‘t run the country.  So, who comes in?

The Turks can‘t come in because the Ottoman Turks were in there for centuries.  You can‘t have the Italians who run the place under Mussolini for 20 years.  Americans can‘t do it.  You‘re going to have British and French.

We‘ve got a terrible problem on our hands because you‘re going to need people in there to run that place, Chuck, after, quite frankly, we win that war and there is no substitute for victory now.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, you know, the U.S. cannot occupy.  The United States cannot occupy Libya.  I mean—

TODD:  So, who does?  Nobody is arguing that.  Yes, who would do this?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  You could have U.S., U.N., I‘m sorry—you could have British, French, Arab League.  But here‘s what Obama could say.  He has the opportunity to find a way out of Libya and to seize the Arab democratic awakening, to realign this country‘s foreign policy, which has been based on autocracies and repressive security military apparatuses in Middle East and lay out a new path forward for this region that will be more secure, because our support for those autocratic regimes has bred terrorism.

And he could say we need to find a way at a time of massive budget deficits and bloated Pentagon budgets, find a way to realign our politics and foreign policy based on diplomatic, political and economic issues which will be central to the rebirth of this region.

BUCHANAN:  You know, Katrina, Bush two tried that.  He tried elections in Egypt and elections in Lebanon and elections on the West Bank.  And we‘ve got Hamas and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood.  You really want elections in Saudi Arabia?  You really want them in Bahrain?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I believe in the power of democracy from below, not through bullets and not the way George W. brought it to Iraq.

BUCHANAN:  Obama is president of the United States.  He‘s running the country with interests, some of them grave and serious in the Persian Gulf, especially.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  But, Pat, our presence there has bred more instability and, I would argue, has bred more terrorism.  We have the ability to realign our positions with those who are more representative of the region, Pat.

TODD:  All right.  Let me go back to the fundamental that Pat brought up, Katrina, at this point: can the president ever define success in Libya that somehow leaves Gadhafi in power?  I mean, at this point, is the U.S.  forced—is the Obama administration forced to stick with this until they‘ve driven Gadhafi from power?

VANDEN HEUVEL:  I think there are possibilities of mediation.  Finding ways, I think, to—find a way of exile for Gadhafi, this brutal dictator.  And I would define success again as a new role for America in a world in which it has been the ally of the most autocratic governments.  But I think President Obama tonight will lay out a strategy and it has to be an end game because this country has no stomach for more foreign occupations, quagmires and the cost of that—both in terms of our treasure—of men and women and our treasury.


TODD:  Pat, I know that you‘re a—what I would say is a principled isolationist, in some cases, if I may throw that have tag on you when it comes to foreign interventions.  But let me ask you this—if British—if the Brits and the French are asking us to do this—which essentially is what has happened—but the U.S. has the military—I mean, could the U.S. have ever said no to the British and French in doing this?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think what we should have done, quite frankly, we stop Gadhafi‘s army from Benghazi and bring in the Egyptian army.  We‘ve given them $60 billion.  It take 10,000.


TODD:  They‘re building their own country.

BUCHANAN:  Well, for heaven‘s sakes, if that army can‘t do anything, 450,000 troops, what good is it?  Let me just say this, I‘m against these interventions.  I think it was a mistake.  I think we could have handled it differently.

But once in, in for a dime, in for a dollar—you can‘t walk away from a fight you started or got into.  You‘ve got to finish and end it.  I do believe this—it‘s probably going to take British and French and the Arab League, they should provide the troops to police this place.

VANDEN HEUVEL:  The Arab League supported it.  They then said they thought the Security Council mandated had been violated and abused.  But they supported it, which was one of the reasons the Obama administration, unlike George W., and the calls from McCain and even Senator Kerry, this were calling for unilateral intervention, to go to the Security Council, civilian protection.  That has been accomplished.

TODD:  Katrina, let me follow up really quickly in one other part.  You don‘t want to see nation-building there.  You want to see it here at home.


TODD:  But doesn‘t—isn‘t the United States now committed to some form of nation-building in Libya if it succeeds in driving Gadhafi from power, but there‘s nothing to fill in, there‘s no sort of—

VANDEN HEUVEL:  Chuck, the most important nation-building the United States can do in the Middle East is reset its economic relationship with that country.  Part of the uprising we have seen has to do with the despair of millions of young people without jobs.  We‘ve got problems here at home.  This is a global problem.  Not military solutions.

TODD:  All right.

BUCHANAN:  Pat, we can‘t walk away when you‘ve smashed the country up.

TODD:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  We‘re the ones smashing it up.  And, quite frankly, we‘ve got an obligation to help rebuild it.  We ought to get the money from the Arabs, however.  But they‘re going to have to rebuild that country and there‘s going to be an occupation.


TODD:  That was my conversation with Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Pat Buchanan, pretty spirited, high-minded debate there.

President Obama is set to address the nation on the mission in Libya coming up at the bottom of the hour, in just a few minutes.  We‘re going to be back on this special edition of HARDBALL, right after this.


TODD:  Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.  We‘re about five minutes away from President Obama‘s address on Libya coming up in just a few moments.

Let‘s bring in NBC News White House correspondent and my co-anchor on “THE DAILY RUNDOWN” and my colleague, Savannah Guthrie.  She is at the National Defense University.

And, Savannah, what is the president going to lay out tonight?  And what is he not going to talk about tonight?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it appears the president really wants to try to make the most compelling case he can for the action that the U.S. military has taken in Libya.  The setting is no accident.  He wants to commend the U.S. troops, and once again answer the call on Libya.  And he‘ll want to emphasize that this is a matter now being transitioned to NATO.

The president all along, as you know, Chuck, has really emphasized the limited nature of this action, but limited in duration but also in scope.  And he will attempt to answer some of his critics who say, on the one hand, perhaps the U.S. shouldn‘t b be involved in every conflict in the world and in other who says the U.S. was too slow to act.  So, the president will try to lay out the case for Libya, but also, I expect him to talk more broadly about what‘s happening in the Middle East and when the U.S. should intervene in these kinds of situations.

TODD:  But my question is: how much of this speech is going to be Libya and how much is going to be about what is going on in the Middle East?  And it seems to me, the hints that we‘ve gotten, we‘re not going to see a broad new policy position from the United States when it comes to dealing with the Middle East right now.

GUTHRIE:  I think that‘s right, except to the extent that the president will once again make the cause for multilateralism—the sense that the United States shouldn‘t act alone, but it is strongest when it works with international project (ph).  But I think that this speech will be predominantly about the situation in Libya, Chuck.

TODD:  And in addressing some of his critics, as much about Congress or as much about trying to get away from the filter that has been Congress and us in the media?

GUTHRIE:  You know, I don‘t think there will be a lot of discussion about Congress per say.  You know, obviously, the administration feels that it sufficiently consulted and briefed members of Congress, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, take—some of them take issue with that, saying they should have them consulted more fully.  And that‘s kind of a bipartisan gripe that you see sometimes, whether you have a co-equal branch of government feeling that it didn‘t have get as much consultation as it feels it deserves.  So, I think the president will talk a little bit about that.

And one other note I would make, Chuck, is that aides to the president really feel that this is kind of a turning point in this crisis.  They sort of want to reset, they want to explain to the American people the action the president took so far.  The president will trumpet what the administration considers to be a success story so far in the sense that it‘s a terrible humanitarian crisis they say has been prevented.

But they also want a signal that the president is ramping down the U.S. involvement in Libya and will be turning his attention to domestic matters, domestic priorities like jobs and the economy.

TODD:  And you seem to hint that was the reason why we‘re hearing from him today and not 10 days ago when this mission started?

GUTHRIE:  I think that‘s right.  I mean, I think they want to say, look, this is a turning point and they want to point to the progress that has been made.  And the president will try to tell the story of where we were six weeks ago, and where we are now.

And I know, your reporting has suggested that perhaps there was some hesitance on the part of White House aides to do a big speech like this at the outset because it would signal, you know, the kind of significant military action that may be of a concern.  I mean, all along the strategy was to have the U.S. very heavily involved at the outset, but then really curtail its involvement.

And I think the president is hoping to come before the American people and say, this is the action that I ordered.  But it‘s coming to a close in terms of the most significant U.S. involvement.

TODD:  All right, Savannah Guthrie, NBC News White House correspondent, my colleague and partner, both on MSNBC and at the booth.  I will let you take your seat.

We are expecting to see the president walk out any minute now.  This is a speech that is designed to make the case about Libya, the report to the American public, this is how aides have described this going in about why he did this action, why it was necessary, why it is in the national interest.  And, of course, that decision got ratcheted up a little bit since both his defense secretary and secretary of state appeared to disagree on this issue of how much in the national interest is Libya.

We have heard from the president quite a few times on this issue of the last 10 days.  And he will wrap it up in a 25-minute speech.

Here‘s the president.

OBAMA:  Tonight, I‘d like to update the American people on the international effort that we have led in Libya, what we‘ve done, what we plan to do, and why this matters to us.

I want to begin by paying tribute to our men and women in uniform, who once again have acted with courage, professionalism and patriotism.  They have moved with incredible speed and strength.  Because of them and our dedicated diplomats, a coalition has been forged and countless lives have been saved. 

Meanwhile, as we speak, our troops are supporting our ally, Japan, leaving Iraq to its people, stopping the Taliban‘s momentum in Afghanistan, and going after Al Qaida all across the globe.  As commander-in-chief, I am grateful to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen, and to their families, and I know all Americans share in that sentiment.

For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom.  Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world‘s many challenges. 

But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.  That‘s what‘s happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks. 

Libya sits directly between Tunisia and Egypt, two nations that inspired the world when their people rose up to take control of their own destiny.  For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant, Moammar Gadhafi.  He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world, including Americans who were killed by Libyan agents.

Last month, Gadhafi‘s grip of fear appeared to give way to the promise of freedom.  In cities and towns across the country, Libyans took to the streets to claim their basic human rights.  As one Libyan said, “For the first time, we finally have hope that our nightmare of 40 years will soon be over.”

Faced with this opposition, Gadhafi began attacking his people.  As president, my immediate concern was the safety of our citizens, so we evacuated our embassy and all Americans who sought our assistance, when we took a series of swift steps in a matter of days to answer Gadhafi‘s aggression.  We froze more than $33 billion of Gadhafi regime‘s assets. 

Joining with other nations at the United Nations Security Council, we broadened our sanctions, imposed an arms embargo, and enabled Gadhafi and those around him to be held accountable for their crimes.  I made it clear that Gadhafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power.

In the face of the world‘s condemnation, Gadhafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people.  Innocent people were targeted for killing.  Hospitals and ambulances were attacked.  Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. 

Supplies of food and fuel were choked off.  Water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misurata was shut off.  Cities and towns were shelled, mosques were destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble.  Military jets and helicopter gun ships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air.

Confronted by this brutal repression and a looming humanitarian crisis, I ordered warships into the Mediterranean.  European allies declared their willingness to commit resources to stop the killing.  The Libyan opposition, and the Arab League, appealed to the world to save lives in Libya. 

And so, at my direction, America led an effort with our allies at the United Nations Security Council to pass an historic resolution that authorized a no-fly zone to stop the regime‘s attacks from the air and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people.

Ten days ago, having tried to end the violence without using force, the international community offered Gadhafi a final chance to stop his campaign of killing, or face the consequences.  Rather than stand down, his forces continued their advance, bearing down on the city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women and children who sought their freedom from fear.

At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice.  Gadhafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people.  He compared them to rats and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. 

In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets and kill over a thousand people in a single day.  Now we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city.  We knew that, if we wanted—if we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

It was not in our national interest to let that happen; I refused to let that happen. 

And so, nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing and enforce U.N.  Security Council Resolution 1973.  We struck regime forces approaching Benghazi to save that city and the people within it.  We hit Gadhafi‘s troops in neighboring Ajdabiya, allowing the opposition to drive them out.  We hit Gadhafi‘s air defenses, which paved the way for a no-fly zone.  We targeted tanks and military assets that had been choking off towns and cities, and we cut off much of their source of supply. 

And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Gadhafi‘s deadly advance.

In this effort, the United States has not acted alone.  Instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition.  This includes our closest allies, nations like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey, all of whom have fought by our sides for decades.  And it includes Arab partners, like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who have chosen to meet their responsibilities to defend the Libyan people.

To summarize, then:  In just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a no-fly zone with our allies and partners. 

To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with airpower to protect civilians.  It took us 31 days.

Moreover, we‘ve accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations.  I said that America‘s role would be limited and that we would not put ground troops into Libya, that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners.  Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.

Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and the no-fly zone.  Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians.  This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday. 

Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gadhafi‘s remaining forces. 

In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role—including intelligence, logistical support, search-and-rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications.  Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation—to our military and to American taxpayers—will be reduced significantly.

So for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, I want to be clear:  The United States of America has done what we said we would do.

That‘s not to say that our work is complete.  In addition to our NATO responsibilities, we will work with the international community to provide assistance to the people of Libya, who need food for the hungry and medical care for the wounded.  We will safeguard the more than $33 billion that was frozen from the Gadhafi regime so that it‘s available to rebuild Libya.  After all, the money doesn‘t belong to Gadhafi or to us.  It belongs to the Libyan people.  And we‘ll make sure they receive it.

Tomorrow, Secretary Clinton will go to London, where she will meet with the Libyan opposition and consult with more than 30 nations.  These discussions will focus on what kind of political effort is necessary to pressure Gadhafi, while also supporting a transition to the future that the Libyan people deserve, because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.

Now, despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya.  Gadhafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. 

Moreover, even after Gadhafi does leave power, 40 years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions.  The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task.  And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community and, more importantly, a task for the Libyan people themselves.

In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya.  On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all, even in limited ways, in this distant land.  They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing needs here at home.

It‘s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs.  And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. 

But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what‘s right.  In this particular country, Libya, at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale.  We had a unique ability to stop that violence:  an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves.  We also had the ability to stop Gadhafi‘s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.

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.  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.

Moreover, America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gadhafi from overrunning those who oppose him.  A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya‘s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful, yet fragile transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. 

The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. 

The writ of the United Nations Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling that institution‘s future credibility to uphold global peace and security. 

So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.

Now, just as there are those who‘ve argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who‘ve suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people and do whatever it takes to bring down Gadhafi and usher in a new government.

Of course, there is no question that Libya and the world would be better off with Gadhafi out of power.  I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal and will actively pursue it through non-military means.  But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

The task that I assigned our forces, to protect the Libyan people from immediate danger and to establish a no-fly zone, carries with it a U.N.  mandate and international support.  It‘s also what the Libyan opposition asked us to do. 

If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter.  We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission or risk killing many civilians from the air.  The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater; so would the costs and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.

To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq.  Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq‘s future, but regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars.  That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.

As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do—and will do—is support the aspirations of the Libyan people.  We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners to maintain the safety of civilians. 

We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supplies of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Gadhafi leaves power. 

It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Gadhafi tries desperately to hang onto power.  But it should be clear to those around Gadhafi—and to every Libyan—that history is not on Gadhafi‘s side.  With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be. 

Let me close by addressing what this action says about the use of America‘s military power and America‘s broader leadership in the world under my presidency.

As commander-in-chief, I have no greater responsibility than keeping this country safe.  And no decision weighs on me more than when to deploy our men and women in uniform. 

I‘ve made it clear that I will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests.  That‘s why we‘re going after Al Qaida wherever they seek a foothold; that is why we continue to fight in Afghanistan, even as we have ended our combat mission in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops from that country. 

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are.  Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security, responding to natural disasters, for example, or preventing genocide and keeping the peace, ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. 

These may not be America‘s problems alone, but they are important to us.  They‘re problems worth solving.  And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world‘s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.

In such cases, we should not be afraid to act, but the burden of action should not be America‘s alone.  As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action, 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.  Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up, as well, to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs, and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.

That‘s the kind of leadership we‘ve shown in Libya.  Of course, even when we act as part of a coalition, the risks of any military action will be high.  Those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya.  Yet when one of our airmen parachuted to the ground, in a country whose leader has so often demonized the United States—in a region that has such a difficult history with our country—this American did not find enemies.  Instead, he was met by people who embraced him.  One young Libyan who came to his aid said, “We are your friends.  We are so grateful to those men who are protecting the skies.”

This voice is just one of many in a region where a new generation is refusing to be denied their rights and opportunities any longer.  Yes, this change will make the world more complicated for a time.  Progress will be uneven, and change will come differently to different countries. 

There are places like Egypt, where this change will inspire us and raise our hopes.  And then there will be places like Iran, where change is fiercely suppressed.  The dark forces of civil conflict and sectarian war will have to be averted and difficult political and economic concerns will have to be addressed. 

The United States will not be able to dictate the pace and scope of this change.  Only the people of the region can do that.  But we can make a difference. 

I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms:  our opposition to violence directed at one‘s own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.

Born as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa and that young people are leading the way, because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States.  Ultimately, it is that faith—those ideals—that are the true measure of American leadership.

My fellow Americans, I know that at a time of upheaval overseas—when the news is filled with conflict and change—it can be tempting to turn away from the world.  And as I‘ve said before, our strength abroad is anchored in our strength here at home.  That must always be our North Star, the ability of our people to reach their potential, to make wise choices with our resources, to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a wellspring for our power, and to live the values that we hold so dear.

But let us also remember that for generations we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe.  We have done so because we know that our own future is safer, our own future is brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. 

Tonight, let us give thanks for the Americans who are serving through these trying times and the coalition that is carrying our effort forward.  And let us look to the future with confidence and hope, not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. 

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.


TODD:  President Obama wrapping up a speech, making a case on Libya, wrapping it in the American values.  It is a speech that lasted just under 28 minutes.  It included laying out everything the United States has done, a little bit of a wrap-up of the successes that have taken place.

He also dealt with two hypothetical arguments, one about not doing—not intervening militarily, saying that would have been against what America stands for, and one about targeting Gadhafi militarily.  And in that hypothetical, he said doing something like that was tried before, and he compared it to Iraq and the targeting of Saddam Hussein.

The last part of the speech, he did touch on all of the upheaval that‘s taking place in the Middle East.  And again, it was all about laying this out and making the case on Libya on the issue of American values.

Very early on, the framing of the speech was set when he said this, “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate of human freedom.”  With that, he framed the entire case of all the actions that have taken place, all of the actions that are going to take place, and everything that has taken place throughout the region of the Middle East.

He didn‘t mention many other countries by name other than Tunisia and Egypt, and as one of the rationalizations of why this needed to be done in Libya for that.

So, it was a 28 minute speech at the National Defense University.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

“THE LAST WORD” with Lawrence O‘Donnell” starts right now.  We‘ll have much more on this speech, President Obama on Libya.



Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by

United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,

transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written

permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,

copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>