Obama: Gadhafi must step down as 'Arab Spring' resumes

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
President Barack Obama reiterated the need for Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi to step down and hand over power to the Libyan people, emphasizing during a joint news conference today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that "the pressure will only continue to increase until he does."

Speaking to reporters in the White House East Room, President Obama called the NATO operation under way a "fully integrated" effort with every country in the coalition playing a different role to protect the Libyan people.

The United States "did a whole bunch of stuff at the front end to disable Gadhafi's air defenses, to take out some of their significant airpower," the president said. "Now we are in a more supporting role as other countries have stepped up."

President Obama said the effort has largely achieved "significant process" toward its goal of preventing a potential slaughter.

"What you're seeing across the country is an inexorable trend of the regime forces being pushed back, being incapacitated," he said. "You're seeing defections, oftentimes of some very high-profile members of the Gadhafi government, as well as the military. And I think it is just a matter of time before Gadhafi goes."

President Obama said he and Chancellor Merkel continued discussions today from the G8 session held last week in Deauville, France, about their support for political and economic reform across the Middle East and North Africa.

The president said he and Chancellor Merkel agree that "this historic moment [for reform] must not be squandered," noting that the United States and Germany are the two largest donors of assistance to the Middle East and North Africa.

"Along with the entire world, we have an enormous stake in seeing that these transitions to democracy succeed," President Obama said.

This "Arab Spring" represents challenges, but also opportunities for the United States, Colin Kahl, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said at a conference last week.

Mr. Kahl said it's too soon to know the full impact of the uprisings rippling across the Middle East and North Africa. Speaking last week at the Center for a New American Security's annual conference, he noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has compared people's movements for reform in the Middle East and North Africa to "the shifting of tectonic plates that have been frozen in place for six decades," followed by a "tsunami of change across the region."

Yet unclear, Mr. Kahl said, is how changes under way will affect U.S. relationships and operations with countries in the region, including U.S. partners. But by the same token, he said, the chain of events could open new opportunities to deepen and build more lasting and enduring relationships with countries whose values more closely align with the United States'.

Mr. Kahl said developments in the Middle East and North Africa are likely to impact the al-Qaida terrorist organization, which he said likely will seek opportunities to expand operations to countries such as Yemen as they focus on their own struggles.

But Mr. Kahl also called pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa, "a huge rebuke" of al-Qaida and the ideology it represents. It's a "delicious irony," he said, that former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden spent his last days before being killed watching the Egyptian people launch a peaceful path to change based on values in direct contrast to al-Qaida's.

While acknowledging that Iran wasn't behind the demonstrations, Mr. Kahl recognized the Iran hopes to take full advantage of the turbulence created. He noted the hypocrisy behind Iran's claim to stand up for the protest movements "everywhere else around the region," except in Iran -- where the government repressed its own domestic protestors in mid-2009 -- or in Syria."

Another uncertainty of the Arab Spring is what impact it could have on the Middle East peace process, Mr. Kahl said. Of major concern is the idea that new Arab leaders in the region will be so focused on their own internal issues and citizens' demands that the peace process will be relegated to the back burner.

"It's a very complex mosaic," Mr. Kahl said of the ripple effect of the Arab Spring.

As the United States will maintain its core values as it navigates "a pragmatic way forward" that recognizes its different interests and influences in different parts of the region, Mr. Kahl said. This includes opposing violence, supporting individual rights, including the freedom of speech, assembly, peaceful protest and access to information; and global and economic reform responsive to people in the region.

Wrapping up a six-country European trip last week in Poland, President Obama held up Poland, which peacefully overthrew communism, as a model for Arab countries now undergoing political change.

President Obama emphasized the opportunities the Arab Spring presents, and the responsibility of the United States and its allies to support people in the Middle East and North Africa as they seek freedom.

No outside country can impose change on another, the president acknowledged, but he said that with foreign assistance, the United States and others can help.
"We can really help. We can facilitate. We can make a difference," President Obama said.