Obama's Libya speech: 6 takeaways
In a primetime television address, the president lays out his rationale for intervening in Libya. Here, a concise summary of the ways his speech succeeded — and failed
On Monday evening, President Obama took to the stage at National Defense University to lay out his case for America's bombing of Libya. In his half-hour, nationally televised speech, Obama said he felt compelled to attack because Moammar Gadhafi was on the verge of massacring his own people, because Libyan rebels were asking for support, and because there was an international consensus to do so. Commentators immediately parsed his speech. Here, six key takeaways:
1. Obama offered a rationale: A "moral imperative"President Obama's "workmanlike effort" to explain the why and how of his decision to bomb Libya boils down to this: "Because we could and our interests and values demanded it," says Marc Ambinder in National Journal. The president offered a "moral imperative" for U.S. action, placing America on the "right side of history" and Gadhafi on the wrong side, says Susan Brooks Thislethwaite in The Washington Post. The U.S. acted, he said, before the "mass graves" were dug. "I have heard far worse arguments for the use of force."
2. But he didn't exactly clarify the "Obama Doctrine"Anyone expecting the president to articulate an "Obama Doctrine" was disappointed, says Ben Smith at Politico. "The doctrine is there is no doctrine," or maybe even an anti-doctrine that "makes sure above all that one size never fits all." Nevertheless, Obama still laid out clear outlines for a "muscular and unapologetic" foreign policy, says Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. Broadly, his version of a doctrine "calls for humanitarian military intervention when it is both necessary and feasible." In other words, says Jim Geraghty in National Review, it's "look, just trust me on this."
3. The neocons liked itObama's positively "Kennedy-esqe speech" not only "extolled American exceptionalism," says Robert Kagan in The Washington Post, it backed the use of U.S. power to uphold our values. Indeed, I found Obama's words "reassuring," says Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard. His "unapologetic, freedom-agenda-embracing, not-shrinking-from-the-use-of-force speech" puts him back in the "historical American foreign policy mainstream." Good grief, says Allahpundit in Hot Air. If the conservative hawk Bill Kristol is "praising The One's foreign policy speeches," I guess "we're all neocons now."
4. But not everyone was impressedUnfortunately, Obama "did not address the fact that the Libyan adventure is an undeclared war," says John Nichols in The Nation, and he "barely mentioned" Congress, which alone has the power to authorize such a military mission. Obama also "addressed none of the calls for defining the mission’s goals, duration, or cost," says Daniel Larison in The Daily Beast. "The public needed a forthright explanation and accounting of the risks that a Libyan war entails, and it received bromides instead."
5. We're handing over control to NATO... sort ofObama said the U.S. is handing all control of the mission over to NATO on Wednesday, says The Associated Press, but that just means "turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically." The commander of the operation will be a Canadian general, but his boss, and his boss's boss will both be Americans. And the attack aircraft, refueling tankers and advanced military technology that "made the U.S. the inevitable leader out of the gate will continue to be in demand."
6. In the end, this speech won't really matterObama's address "wasn't commanding or inspiring enough to move public opinion," and it's not what people will remember, says Clive Crook in The Atlantic. "If things go well, Gadhafi leaves or is made to leave, and the aftermath isn't too bloody, the operation will be deemed a success, and Obama will get much of the credit." If it turns into a bloody slog, Obama will get the blame.