We compiled a timeline of events and statements in the US and Libya in order to track the Obama administration's evolution from the beginning of the riots in Libya to Secretary of State Clinton's announcement tonight that NATO will be assuming command and control of the no fly zone there.
Feb 15: Riots against Col. Mummary Khaddafy begin in Benghazi.
Feb 22: After a week of riots, Khaddafy delivers a speech in which he vows to “die a martyr”
Feb 23: In measured rhetoric, President Obama delivers a statement in which he says that “the suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable.”
Feb 26: The UN Security Council imposes sanctions on Khaddafy and his family
Feb 28: The EU governments approve a package of sanctions against Khaddafy and his advisors
Feb 28: In an interview with ABC's Christiane Amanpour, Khaddafy says that his people love him and would die to protect him, and blames Al Qaeda for encouraging the rebels to take arms against the regime
Feb 28: In an interview with the BBC, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hedges on the enforcement of a no-fly zone, comparing the situation to Iraq: “That's one of the drawbacks of a no-fly zone is, as we learned in Iraq when we ran a no-fly zone in northern Iraq, sometimes absolutely horrible regimes decide that that means it's open fire on the ground. So this is a much more complicated decision matrix than it might at first appear.”
March 1: The UN General Assembly unanimously suspends Libya’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council
March 2: In a hearing of the defense subcommittee of the House appropriations committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates distances himself from endorsing a no-fly zone: “there's a lot of, frankly, loose talk about some of these military options. And let's just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That's the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that's the way it starts.”
March 3: In a news conference at the White House with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, President Obama says Khaddafy “has lost the legitimacy to lead and he must leave.” With regard to military options he says “there are a whole range of options, military and non-military, that we're examining.”
March 11: President Obama says in a news conference that potential military options include a no-fly zone. Rather than repeating his statement that Khaddafy “must leave,” he says rather that “I am absolutely clear that it is in the interest of the United States, and more importantly, in the interest of the Libyan people for Mr. Qaddafi to leave.”
Later in that press conference: “Let me be clear, again, about what our policy as determined by me, the President of the United States, is towards the situation there. I believe that Qaddafi is on the wrong side of history. I believe that the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now. :”
March 12: The Arab League calls for a no-fly zone against the Khaddafy regime
March 17: Khaddafy delivers a menacing radio address in which he tells civilians: “It's over ... We are coming tonight… You will come out from inside. Prepare yourselves from tonight. We will find you in your closets."
Evening of March 17: The UN Security Council votes 10-0 with 5 abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India, Russian Federation) demanding “the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians.”
March 18: President Obama delivers a statement explaining the rationale behind the no-fly zone, where he explains in part: “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die.” He also articulates the “focus” of the US’s role: “Our focus has been clear: protecting innocent civilians within Libya, and holding the Qaddafi regime accountable.”
Also in that speech, the president indicated that other members of the coalition would take the lead on the operation: “Indeed, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it.”
Evening of March 18: President Obama leaves the White House for a trip to Latin America, arriving the next morning in Brazil.
March 19: Delivering remarks in Brazil, Obama announces that he authorized the United States Armed Forces to “begin a limited military action in Libya in support of an international effort to protect Libyan citizens.” He warns that “we cannot stand idly by” and again describes the American role in enforcing the no-fly zone: “… the United States will contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission to protect Libyan civilians, and enable the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be led by our international partners.”
March 20: On NBC’s Meet the Press, Adm. Mike Mullen says Khaddafy staying in power is “certainly, potentially, one outcome.”
March 21: At a press conference in Chile with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, Obama says the operation will “take place in matter of days not weeks.”
March 22: At a press conference in El Salvador with Salvadorian President Carlos Mauricio Funes, Obama says about the American role: “our job was to take our unique capabilities and create a space to shape the environment so that the operation of a no-fly zone could operate effectively, and to make sure that our immediate humanitarian goals could be met.”
More: “We will continue to support the efforts to protect the Libyan people, but we will not be in the lead. That’s what the transition that I discussed has always been designed to do. We have unique capabilities. We came in, up front, fairly readily, fairly substantially, and at considerable risk to our military personnel. And when this transition takes place, it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone. It is not going to be our ships that are necessarily involved in enforcing the arms embargo. That's precisely what the other coalition partners are going to do.”
March 22: In an interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer, Secretary of State Clinton says of the US mission: “We are implementing the UN Security Council resolution. We are establishing the no-fly zone, which everybody was calling for, from the United States Senate to the Arab League -- please do a no-fly zone, get UN Security Council support to do it. And that is what we are doing.”
She also says this about the possibility of Khaddafy staying in power: “Now obviously, if we want to see a stable, peaceful, hopefully someday democratic Libya, it is highly unlikely that can be accomplished if he stays in power as he is.”
March 23: President Obama returns to the United States.
March 24: Secretary of State Clinton announces that command and control of the no-fly zone will be transferred to NATO.