The text of the speech is available here. Basically, he defended his decision to
Much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all—even in limited ways—in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing needs here at home.Mm, well, sometimes we're different. And sometimes we turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. Which was kind of his point, when he started.
It's true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right. In this particular country—Libya—at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi's forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.
To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and—more profoundly—our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.
On the one hand, I understand this reasoning and sympathize with it. Just because we can't prevent every horror in the world ever doesn't mean we shouldn't try to prevent some. I agree with that. I just question the basis on which the US tends to make its decisions about where to intervene.
[TW for sexual violence] Why is it, for example, that journalists being sexually assaulted in Libya is a reason to intervene, according to the president, but the hundreds of thousands of women who have been raped in DR Congo is not a reason to intervene there? Is their plea for help not loud enough?