February 23rd, 2011
06:10 PM ET

Hostage fear a key factor in Obama's muted Libya response

Ed Henry
CNN Senior White House Correspondent

Washington (CNN) - While President Obama has taken heat for a relatively muted response in the early days of the crisis in Libya, U.S. officials privately believe it was the best strategy because if Obama had bashed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi it could have put the thousands of Americans who are in Libya in harm's way.

U.S. officials said there was a fear inside the administration that some of those Americans could have been taken hostage by Gadhafi, who once again made his distaste for America clear in rambling public remarks earlier this week and would relish the chance to escalate the crisis and drag U.S. citizens into the crossfire.

It's no accident that aides now say Obama is planning to make his first on-camera comments about the matter late Wednesday or early Thursday, just as a chartered ferry is expected to evacuate more than 500 Americans from Tripoli to nearby Malta.

Asked by CNN if Obama was being more cautious in his public comments because of the Americans in harm's way, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged it was an "important factor" in the calculations.

"The president is obviously concerned about the safety of American citizens - no question," Carney said at his daily briefing with reporters. "And that is an important factor in any country. And the circumstances of American citizens are different in each country. The protections they have, say, at the embassy, might be different in one country than the protections they have in another. All of those factors are important in how we approach these situations and how the president looks at them."

Carney added the president is also "extremely concerned and alarmed by the horrific violence and bloodshed that's happened in Libya" in recent days.

Obama has been blistered by some critics for being too soft on Gadhafi, with columnist Jackson Diehl writing in the Washington Post that Libya "ought to be the easy case in the Middle East's turmoil" for the White House to deal with because of Gadhafi's government killing at least hundreds of its own people.

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soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Dave

    Why all the revolts are in the pro-west dictators? US allies on the war against terror?
    Obama has a historical opportunity to present a true picture of America representing its great constitution by truly supporting the Middle East popular movements for freedom. People when free will live and work harder to advance making a better life for all. What we see today is the result of the past 60 years of the US government being the muscle enforcing UK unfair bankrupt colonial policies supporting cruel puppet dictator regimes while ignoring masses' basic rights.

    February 24, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  2. Rick

    Barack Obama needs to stop talking and start acting upon the people of Libya, that is what everyone is waiting for (action), not only those in Libya but also everyone around the world! The UN needs to also provide protection for the people of Libya. When Gadhafi and Gadhafi's Government go around killing people they are no longer concered a government, they are Terrorist and the lowest people on earth. We the United States are against terror, not only in this country but in every country and when terror begins be become a big problem such as a Government killing men women and children then the United Stated and the UN need to taken it upon themselves to take ("Action") and protect the people at all cost. Stop the talking Obama and get on that phone with the UN and get are militaries moving, thats what the people of Libya are asking and waiting for and expecting of us. Who are we? Are we the United States? Then let prove it and be proud and be all we can be by providing Libya Protection against Gadhafi's terrorist Dogs!!!


    February 23, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  3. Rapelje

    So where are the Americans waiting offshore for safe weather in Tripoli??? Do they not have cell phones, Blackberries, computers? Why have we not heard from them? I would think they would be our main source of information. Has anyone heard from them??

    February 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  4. Beverly Palmer

    Great reporting on the crisis in Libya . Great guests. Really appreciate the woman who is risking her life to talk with Anderson. I know we are focusing on Libya right now....but I hope at some point in the near future we (CNN) will take a closer look at North Korea and the prison camps that exist there today. People are sent to prison camps for knowing someone who speaks out against the government. It is unbelievable. There is an organization called LiNK based in Torrance, California who works to bring refugees that have been able to escape to China to the US. Thanks for in depth reporting.

    February 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  5. john

    I think that obama said the right thing. I believe that the Arab world fail to realize that freedom isn't free and they might just have to spill their blood for it like America did to gain its independence. I'm speaking as an American that served in the military(Infantryman) and did a long tour in Iraq. I think that our elected leaders need to realize that they were elected to act in the best interest of Americans and not in the best interest of their political party agendas. The democratic party. The republican party. How about the American party.

    February 23, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  6. Farah

    Great article. Why is it everybody thinks that the president needs to announce every thought and action. His job is "we the people" and our protection is number one not what he thinks of Kaddafi or any other leader or dictator!! I know that if I was stuck in Libya I would be thanking my lucky stars that my president is not play lose with my life.

    February 23, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  7. Colleen

    Having lived abroad for many years, I realized how ethnocentric the U.S. is. We tend to focus only on the U.S. What is happenning in the Middle East is critical and will have a huge and far reaching imact for us all. I can promise you, it is all the rest of the world is focused on. Keep up the great information and don't stop!

    February 23, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  8. Liana

    But what can you do when you got more than 500 Americans in there?

    February 23, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  9. Liana

    he speaks knowing that his words have no effect at all and are basically an empty sound.

    February 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  10. Nalini

    Good evening Anderson and everyone,
    So, now I can understand why President Obama was not vocal enough for three days.He stands united with the International Community in condemning the atrocities and it is imperative that they speak with one voice in co-ordinating their actions. But if it took the UN Security Council 3 hours to agree on 5 paragraphs of a statement, when are they ever going to pass a resolution? Especially if the members of the Council, differ....how difficult is it to see the man is a lunatic and needs to be held accountable for crimes against humanity. They're taking their cool time.
    Or then again maybe they do need to, so as not to repeat errors of the past regime?

    February 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  11. Annie Kate

    Obama's comments were quite good; he reported on the progress of getting our citizens out of the country and then he said that the US and the rest of the world are watching what happens in Libya and that we do not condone violence and killing of the protesters and that we will continue to stand up for freedom now and in the future. I have wondered if after the embassy insures that the American citizens are out of the country if the embassy employees will be recalled home as well to get them out of danger and to break off relations with Libya until Gadhafi leaves. I know in the past we have had embargoes against Libya that were quite effective and perhaps those with the withdrawal of relations may help tip the balance and usher Gadhafi out finally.

    February 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  12. Inmyopinion

    I don't think Gadhafi fears President Obama. Bush or Clinton, yes, Gadhafi would be in fear since both former presidents were known for not holding back. I remember Clinton taking action very often and countries knew not to mess with him, Clinton was very close to Reagan in that attitude of nice guy but don't push me. Of course, everyone knows Bush's history. Obama is a philosopher, thinker, very calm, undisturbed.

    February 23, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  13. Yaritza Abdelnour

    It is important that the world knows that the regimen of Hugo Chavez could be helping Gadhafi and his family to come and obtain asylum in Venezuela. At this moment, the International Airport of Maiquetia is closed due to "power failures on the runway" which is completly false ! The goverment of Venezuela is more than ready to receive Gadhafi !!!

    February 23, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  14. Curtis

    Can the ferry not pull away from the dock and find another place to hang out until the weather clears?

    Can the ferry make it far enough away from Tripoli for the US Navy to rescue the Americans?

    Please do not disparage Obama or others for keeping the safety of good American citizens and employees of our government in Lybia.

    February 23, 2011 at 7:11 pm |