Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on "Libya: Defining U.S. National Security Interests," on March 31, 2011. Deputy Secretary Steinberg said:
"In his speech on Monday night, President Obama laid out our goals and our strategy in Libya and the wider Middle East. On Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with our allies and partners in London, as well as with representatives of the Libyan Transitional National Council, and yesterday she and Secretary Gates briefed members of the both the House and Senate. I am pleased to be here to underline their comments and to continue the valuable and important exchange between the Administration and the Congress that has been ongoing since shortly after Colonel Qadhafi's regime began to resort to violence against its own people.
"Let me begin by reviewing why we are a part of this broad international effort. As the President said, 'the United States has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom. When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.'
"This crisis began when the Libyan people took to the streets in peaceful protest to demand their universal human rights. Colonel Qadhafi's security forces responded with extreme violence. Military jets and helicopter gunships attacked people who had no means to defend themselves against assaults from the air. There were reports of government agents raiding homes and even hospitals to round up or kill wounded protestors, of indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture as Qadhafi's forces began a full-scale assault on cities that were standing up against his dictatorial rule.
"The UN Security Council responded by unanimously approving Resolution 1970 on February 26, which demands an end to the violence and refers the situation to the International Criminal Court while imposing a travel ban and assets freeze on the family of Muammar Al-Qadhafi, and certain Government officials. Rather than respond to the international community's demand for an end to the violence, Qadhafi's forces continued their brutal assault.
"With this imminent threat bearing down on them, the people of Libya appealed to the world for help. The GCC and the Arab League called for the establishment of a No-Fly Zone. Acting with partners in NATO, the Arab World and the African members of the Security Council, we passed Resolution 1973 on March 17. It demanded an immediate ceasefire in Libya, including an end to the current attacks against civilians, which it said might constitute 'crimes against humanity,' imposed a ban on all flights in the country's airspace, authorized the use of all necessary measures to protect civilians, and tightened sanctions on the Qadhafi regime and entities it owns or controls, including the National Oil Corporation and its subsidiaries. As his troops pushed toward Benghazi, a city of nearly 700,000 people, Qadhafi again defied the international community, declaring, 'We will have no mercy and no pity.' Based on his decades-long history of brutality, we had little choice but to take him at his word. Stopping a potential humanitarian disaster of massive proportions became a question of hours, not days.
"And so we acted decisively to prevent a potential massacre. We established a no-fly zone, stopped Qadhafi's army from their advance on Benghazi, expanded the coalition, responded to the humanitarian crisis in Libya and in its neighboring countries, and now have transferred command of the military effort to NATO."
He continued: "We became involved in this effort because America has an important strategic interest in achieving this objective. A massacre could drive tens of thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful--yet fragile--transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. It would undercut democratic aspirations across the region and embolden repressive leaders to believe that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. It would undermine the credibility of the United Nations Security Council and its ability to uphold global peace and security. That is why this administration concluded that failure to act in Libya would have carried too great a price for America and why we will remain vigilant and focused on the mission at hand.
"I would like to focus on three non-military tracks that are crucial to the President's strategy: delivering desperately needed humanitarian assistance; pressuring and isolating the Qadhafi regime through robust sanctions and other measures; and supporting the Libyan people as they work to achieve their legitimate democratic aspirations. ...Now we are moving forward on all three of these tracks with a growing coalition of allies and partners. In London, the international community agreed to establish a Contact Group that will coordinate activity and provide broad political guidance on the full range of efforts under Resolutions 1970 and 1973. We are pleased that Qatar will host the first meeting.
"So there is considerable progress to report. But we are under no illusions about the dangers and challenges that remain. Qadhafi is unlikely to give up power quickly or easily. The regime still has substantial military capacity and continues offensive operations in Misrata and elsewhere.
"This is a critical moment--for Libya, the international community and the United States. We are eager to continue our close consultations with you about the way forward and hope to have your support."
You can read Deputy Secretary Steinberg's complete remarks here.