Fair and Balanced: Live Blogging the President’s Speech

What must Obama do in tonight’s speech?

Simply put, he needs to clarify the nation’s war aims in Libya and place that in the larger context of the situation in the Mideast.  His primary audience is not the partisans on either side, but the large portion of the public that wants to support the Libyan intervention, but are unsure of what is at stake there, and in the Mideast more generally.  In effect, he needs to lay out the  “Obama doctrine” when it comes to foreign intervention.

Interestingly, the President has opted not to deliver this message from the Oval Office – a good choice, in my view.  In previous Oval Office addresses he has not mastered the more intimate approach required of such speeches.  Look for him to stress the humanitarian aspect of the  Libyan intervention, and to emphasize the limited nature of the engagement.Look for him also to explain why this intervention was necessary, where other Mideast areas do not rise to the same level of concern.

I think he will steer clear of the debate re: whether he needs congressional authorization to engage militarily in Libya. This is not a topic that one can resolve in a 20-minute address.

In the end, the effectiveness of this speech will be determined by what happens on the ground – if, in fact, the military engagement is limited, and successful – which most Americans will define as removing Gaddafi – then it will be deemed an effective speech.  If events on the ground contradict his presentation, it will almost certainly be used against him by partisans on both sides.

An interesting backdrop to this speech is the mixed signals coming out of the Obama administration.  If you watched the Gates/Clinton dog and pony show on yesterday’s talk shows, you’ll recall that Gates practically admitted the U.S. had no strong national interest in Libya.  And Clinton basically acknowledged that our participation was in large part driven by a commitment to our NATO allies.

This is the dark side to Obama’s emphasis on multilateralism.   Supporters of the multilateral approach tend to argue that intervention becomes more legitimate when the U.S. has international support.  Less well understood, however, is that a true commitment to a multilateral foreign policy also means that we may get forced into engagements that we may not see as fully in our national interest.  That’s the other side of the multilateral coin.

Note that the President’s speech is at 7:30

We are watching the Fox feed (since I have Fox people with me!)

7:30  He’s at the National Defense University – that should provide a nice backdrop to the speech, and get him out of the Oval Office.

Ah, the flags!  Nice touch

The obligatory tribute to the troops – and in the context of noting the strategic objectives across the globe.

Note that he describes Libya in terms of “interests and values” – emphasis on values.

He’s pitching this primarily as a humanitarian reaction to Gaddafi’s crimes against his own people.  This is where it gets tricky – he notes that the U.S. goal is to get Gaddafi to step down – but how deeply is the U.S. committed to achieving this objective?

This is an interesting and I think useful effort to explain how we got involved in the first place, and how it led to the “historic” U.N. resolution.   This is a nice example of a president trying to use the presidency as a teaching tool.

So far he’s done the easy part – explaining what we stopped by intervening.  The question is how far we go to protect the rebels.

Note the “bipartisan consultation with Congress” – my guess is this was informing Congress more than consulting it.

Note also that in listing the “coalition of the willing” he includes the Arab nations – and how quickly the coalition came together.

And he’s sticking to the limited nature of the intervention.

Still hasn’t laid out the end game, however.

This is not going to satisfy those who wonder what the ultimate measure of success is – but he has made it clear we are stepping down – “transitioning” to NATO control.

A narrowly focused military mission – but will it achieve its goal of removing Gaddafi?

Did you miss it?  He simply skipped over this key issue…..interesting omission.

He rejects the two options of doing nothing, and intervening everywhere.  This is fine – but it still doesn’t answer what the end game in Libya is….. it appears that preventing the imminent slaughter of civilians was the goal – that’s the U.S. interest at stake here.  But it is going to leave him open to criticism that he’s not going far enough.

Ah, now he’s getting to the question – 20 minutes in.  Actively pursuing regimen change through non-military means – this is the crux of the issue.

Iraq looms large here – to be blunt:  he doesn’t want to go down that road.  But what about Afghanistan?  Why intervene there – this is not going to satisfy everyone.

He’s concluding with what might be called the Obama doctrine – never fear using military to protect the U.S.’s core interests.  That’s why we continue to fight in Afghanistan.

Evidently, Libya is not a threat to our safety, but it is a threat to our values.   This is an interesting argument – he’s trying to walk a very fine line here in arguing that as part of a international alliance on behalf of core values  intervention is ok, but not worth going alone – at least not for the sake of “values”.

Raises the question – if we are part of a coalition – how much leadership do we cede to the coalition?

I don’t think this speech in the end is going to satisfy those who want a more specific delineation  of how far we should go in pursuit of fundamental U.S. values.  It’s was a better speech in laying out why we got involved in the first place.

The final passage, with its soaring rhetoric, almost works against the message he is trying convey here – that this is a limited engagement.  It’s really a difficult message to sell – how we are a beacon of hope, but in the end we are not going to intervene beyond what we have already done in Libya.

Now for the talking head bit with Fox – back in a bit.

Ok, for the locals among you the talking head bit will be on at the 10 o’clock news.  (Channel 44). Let me know how it goes.

The reporter focused on what they saw as Obama evading/ignoring the question of how to define success in Libya – if Gaddafi remains in power and we see a stalemate, do we accept this, or is there a plan b that  involves greater military involvement?  And how does one reconcile the stirring rhetoric at the end with the enunciation of a doctrine that basically says we don’t intervene elsewhere without international support?

Summary: the best part of this speech, I thought, was Obama’s overview of how we got into Libya in the first place -  I thought it was a useful historical lesson. But the speech was much weaker regarding what constitutes “success” in Libya and what this means for intervention in the Mideast more generally.  He tried to walk a very fine line between the non-interventionists and the full interventionists, but the risk was that he pleased neither side.  Moreover, the soaring rhetoric at the end seemed inconsistent with his more nuanced argument suggesting that we will not support pro-democracy movement without strong international support for intervening.  In effect, Obama seemed to suggest that U.S. intervention is contingent on developing a multilateral coalition – but does that mean we intervene when other nations see it in their interest, even if it may not be in ours?

Let’s see how this plays out – what will the punditocracy say?  And was the general public even paying attention?

Oh, I almost forgot – what did you think?   Let me know….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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