How Long Will The U.S. Stay Engaged In Libya?

The situation in Libya has become so problematic for the Obama administration that the president will address the nation Monday night to explain his policy. He set the groundwork Sunday by sending out the secretaries of State and Defense to the Sunday talk shows.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The situation in Libya has become a problem for the Obama administration, and the president has decided he must address the nation tonight and explain his policy. He laid the groundwork yesterday by sending out the secretaries of State and Defense to the Sunday talk shows.

And here to talk about that and the rest of what's going on in politics is NPR's Cokie Roberts.

Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Now, obviously, President Obama is concerned about public reaction to his decisions on Libya, so the secretaries of State and Defense go out to prepare the way and make smooth the path. What was their message?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: They were all over the airwaves yesterday, and they were very upbeat. Secretary Gates, the secretary of defense, said that the military operations were going very well. And Secretary Clinton, secretary of state, said the humanitarian mission was going well.

Here she is on NBC's "Meet the Press."

(Soundbite of TV show "Meet the Press")

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): I think we prevented a great humanitarian disaster - which is always hard to point to something that didn't happen, but I believe we did.

ROBERTS: The question, of course, is what happens next, and how long the U.S. will be engaged in Libya. And the Cabinet secretaries were pretty clear that they really don't know the answer to those questions. And Secretary Gates said over - said a couple of times that Libya was really not a vital interest to the United States.

So, you know, this whole question of what the president will be dealing with tonight is still somewhat up in the air. I think we can expect him to talk about handing the mission over to NATO and the U.N. and to say that we have protected the Libyan protestors. But he is going to have to explain now: Now what? And that is the question.

WERTHEIMER: So do you have any sense of how this is playing with the American people? Is the public on the president's side on military action in Libya?

ROBERTS: It's very split. In the CBS poll, 50 percent said they approved of the action, in a Gallup poll, 47 percent. These are not the numbers you normally see after the United States goes in into a military situation. So that's another reason the president, of course, has to make the case.

And there's been a lot of criticism from the Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. So it's not just been Republican criticism, but there's been a lot more of that than from the Democratic side, including the usual complaint that there's been no congressional notification, not enough consultation with Congress. We both remember that happening in the past, for instance when Ronald Reagan bombed Libya. But that has not stopped Republicans from voicing their upset.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich - who, by the way, yesterday said he's likely to announce his presidential bid soon - has been on both sides of the Libya question. But he insists that now that the president has said that Gadhafi must go, that U.S. credibility is at stake if Gadhafi stays. So he's putting pressure on President Obama to go further.

WERTHEIMER: Former Speaker Gingrich was not just talking on television. He was also in Iowa this weekend for the first recognized candidate event of the coming 2012 season. How'd that go?

ROBERTS: The Conservative Principles Conference was in Iowa. Not all of the Republican candidates were there. Sarah Palin - we don't know whether she's running or not, but she was not there. Social issues, of course, at a conference like that were key at a time when some of the Republican candidates are trying to focus on fiscal concerns. And Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman, was the crowd-pleaser in Iowa this weekend, revving everybody up on the social issues.

She did also, though, Linda, take a moment to honor Geraldine Ferraro, who died over the weekend, the first female candidate on a major party ticket for vice president. And Bachmann, among others, talked about how she paved the way for women in politics.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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