Obama: European distraction led to Libya 'mess'

Five years after uprising, Libya faces new challenges
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Story highlights

  • Report: President criticizes counterparts over aftermath of Libyan intervention
  • European inaction after operation led to "mess" in Libya, Barack Obama says
  • UK's David Cameron, France's Nicolas Sarkozy take brunt of Obama's criticism

(CNN)President Barack Obama is sharing his harsh assessment of his current and former European counterparts following the 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya that resulted in the death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

In a profile published Thursday in The Atlantic, the President told author Jeffrey Goldberg that British Prime Minister David Cameron became "distracted by a range of other things" after the operation. Cameron, along with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, took the brunt of Obama's criticism.
    Although Obama thinks the intervention went as well as it could, he views Libya today as a "mess." Privately, according to the article, he refers to the troubled state as a "sh*t show."
    In a statement to CNN, a National Security Council spokesman tried to qualify Obama's remarks and reassure that the alliance between the United Kingdom and United States remains strong.
    "Prime Minister Cameron has been as close a partner as the president has had, and we deeply value the UK's contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy objectives which reflect our special and essential relationship," spokesman Ned Price said.
    In The Atlantic, Obama said he had more faith in Europeans "being invested in a follow-up" given their geographical "proximity" and largely blames their inaction for the "mess."
    On Libya, Price mentioned that Obama has previously said and continues to believe that "all of us -- including the United States -- could have done more in the aftermath of the Libyan intervention." Price said that the UK has "stepped up on a range of issues," including pressing fellow NATO members to increase defense spending.
    Price noted it isn't the first time Obama publicly critiqued the Libya intervention. Price pointed to his September remarks at the U.N. General Assembly, where the President said, "Our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind."
    Cameron's office said Friday that it welcomed Price's statement.
    "The White House (has) been clear that the Prime Minister has been as close a partner as the President has had, and they deeply value the UK's contributions on our shared national security and foreign policy initiatives," a Downing Street statement said.
    Cameron's office agreed "that there are still many difficult challenges in Libya" but stressed that intervening and "coming to the aid of innocent civilians who were being tortured and killed by their leader was the right thing to do."
    "And since the civil war, we have sought to support the people of Libya and stability in that country," the statement said. "And we are working hard to support the U.N.-led process to establish a stable and inclusive government that will allow them to build a peaceful future. But ultimately a positive outcome for Libya is not just up to the international community -- this process needs to be led by the Libyan people."