Reporting from Washington — President Obama said Tuesday that he had to "move quickly to save lives" in Libya earlier this month, suggesting that was one reason he didn't seek authorization from Congress to launch airstrikes on the defenses of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
In an interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams, Obama also said there are significant differences between the situation in Libya and the war in Iraq, a military action that inspired him to say as a candidate that presidents can only personally authorize a military attack in order to stop an "actual or imminent threat to the nation."
"The key point here is that this is not a situation analogous to Iraq, in which we are devoting ground troops and a long protracted battle that puts American lives at risk," Obama said, according to a transcript released by the network. "For us to take this limited action, limited both in time and scope … I think was the right thing to do."
The interview was the first time Obama has responded to a direct question about his comment from 2007. It came in a series of conversations Obama taped with network anchors on Tuesday, as he takes his sales pitch for the military action in Libya on the road.
After addressing the nation Monday in the first extended remarks since the airstrikes began, Obama traveled to New York City to do the interviews and appear at Democratic fundraisers in the evening. In between, he delivered remarks at the dedication of the new building for the United States Mission to the United Nations, named in honor of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
At the U.N. ceremony, Obama praised what he called the "extraordinary leadership" of former President Bill Clinton in the Balkans, where Clinton launched a NATO bombing campaign to stop the Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians seeking independence.
There are times, Obama said, in which "our conscience and our common interests compel us to act."
That doesn't mean the U.S. can do so whenever it wants, he said, echoing an idea prominent in this week's campaign to convince Americans he did the right thing in Libya.
Under his leadership, he said, the U.S. will take such actions in concert with other nations.
The world is "more secure and the interests of the United States are best advanced when we act collectively," Obama said. "The burden of action should not always be America's alone."