White House: U.S. Seeks to Be on ‘Right Side of History’ in Libya Intervention

BY Kwame Holman  March 28, 2011 at 3:25 PM EDT

As President Obama prepares to address the nation Monday night on the American military role in the fighting in Libya, White House officials brought a two-fold message to reporters during a background session.

First, National Security Adviser Denis McDonough and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney emphasized the U.S. military’s support of opposition forces battling those loyal to Moammar Gadhafi sets no precedent for potential U.S. actions elsewhere in the roiling Middle East and North Africa.

Secondly, they underscored that the U.S. is embarked on an “end state” for its involvement in the military action in Libya and that both Mr. Obama Monday night and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who will be in London Tuesday for a summit on Libya — will provide details of that disengagement.

The advisers also rejected assertions by some members of Congress that the president has not made clear to lawmakers and the public his reasons for entering the Libya fight and how the U.S. will get out of it.

“Someone said (we viewed) the questions from Congress as illegitimate,” Carney said. “No one (here) said that. These are legitimate questions. This is a complicated situation.”

He noted that president has spoken several times about his reasons for the U.S. action in Libya, including in his regular weekend radio address.

Carney and McDonough said that even as the U.S. moves toward an “end state” militarily, diplomats and officials will continue other efforts to “isolate” Gadhafi using the “tools” described in the U.N. resolution that authorizes sanctions against the Libyan leader and his supporters.

As for the continuing turmoil in countries from Bahrain to Yemen to Syria, the advisers reiterated the administration’s stand over the last several weeks — that each country’s situation is “unique” and each should be viewed separately.

They said the overarching policy is that all countries must respect the right of peaceful protest and legitimate calls for reform.

“To the extent you want me to say what we do in one (country’s situation defines the way we treat another), that’s not the way it works,” McDonough said when asked about the rising violence in Syria.

Carney said, “It’s in the U.S. interest to be on the right side of history, to support the democratic aspirations of people. And an outcome (in any of the countries) that results in greater pluralism will be good for the United States of America.”

Carney added the president chose to speak to the nation again Monday because “we’re approaching the point of the end of the days-not-weeks’” schedule the administration set for ending the main U.S. military involvement in Libya.