Last night, nine days after U.S. military operations against Muammar Qadhafi began, President Barack Obama took to the stage at the National Defense University to finally explain his rationale for intervention in Libya’s civil war. He described the brutality of the Qadhafi regime, the United States’ interests in the conflict, the limited nature of U.S. military involvement, and the role the “international community” would undertake in finishing the job in Libya and rebuilding the country. It was a speech more appropriately delivered at the onset of Operation Odyssey Dawn, and unfortunately it’s a speech that leaves a fundamental question unanswered: what’s the way forward?

From the outset of operations in Libya, the best option was always “to minimize the commitment of the U.S. military, look after the best interests of Libya’s civilian population, and limit the spread of terrorism and instability throughout the region.” While the president promised last night to pursue such a course—the real challenge now begins—and there are still far too few details of how the White House will deliver on these promises.

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