Obama seeks to mollify critics with Libya speech

President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during his joint news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Thursday, March 3, 2011, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
President Barack Obama
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

On the 10th day of U.S. military involvement in Libya, President Obama uses an address to the nation this evening to explain his decision to engage, what's at stake, who's in charge and how long it'll last.

It's a speech critics in Congress say he should have delivered before the first American cruise missile was fired at a Libyan target on March 19th.

Mr. Obama heard those complaints again Friday in a meeting with congressional leaders in the Situation Room.

Speaker of the House John Boehner left the session believing "much more needs to be done by the Administration to provide clarity, particularly to the American people, on the military objective in Libya, America's role, and how it is consistent with U.S. policy goals," his spokesman said in a statement.

Until it announced that Mr. Obama would deliver a speech this evening on Libya, the White House argued that he had more than adequately explained U.S. policy and actions in a statement the day before military operations began, and in response to press questions at news conferences in Chile and El Salvador during his Latin American trip last week.

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But the president also faced criticism that he engaged the U.S. in military action without "consulting" Congress. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) says Mr. Obama's actions are "in clear subversion of Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives only Congress the power to declare war."

Kucinich calls the U.S. intervention in Libya "a strategic and moral blunder."

Libyan rebels jubilate on a checkpoint in Al-Egila, east of Ras Lanuf, eastern Libya, March 27, 2011.
AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus

The president intends to answer that criticism in his speech tonight to an audience of military officers at National Defense University on the grounds of Ft. McNair, a short drive from the White House.

Actually, the president offered his most thorough public defense to date of the U.S. involvement in Libya in his Weekly Address on radio and the Internet on Saturday.

"I ordered our armed forces to help protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Muammar Qaddafi," he said in the opening sentence of his Saturday speech.

He said the mission in Libya is of "limited scope and specific purpose" and that "important progress" had already been made.

He said the intervention in Libya by the U.S. and its allies was "in our national interest to act." Although just yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said U.S. engagement was not in our "vital national interest."

Here are other key points Mr. Obama made on Saturday and we can expect to hear again this evening:

- "We're enforcing the mandate of the United Nations Security Council."

- "Because we acted quickly, a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and the lives of countless civilians -- innocent men, women and children -- have been saved."

- "We are not putting any ground forces into Libya."

- "Together with the international community, we're delivering urgent humanitarian assistance."

- "Moammar Qaddafi has lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to rule."

Further, he will stress that NATO and not the U.S., is in command of the coalition enforcement of the no-fly zone, the arms embargo, and of the civilian protection mission in Libya.

He will portray the NATO command as an example of how the international community should work: "more nations, not just the United States, bearing the responsibility and cost of upholding peace and security."

Despite all his arguments tonight, it's unlikely Mr. Obama will satisfy the critics of his Libyan decision.

Below, CBS News senior political producer discusses President Obama's audience tonight with CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes and CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid:

Below, Reid, Cordes and Hendin discuss whether there is a political minefield for Mr. Obama over Libya:

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.