On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner called on President Obama to explain the mission in Libya.
According to Boehner’s statement:
“The United States has a moral obligation to stand with those who seek freedom from oppression and self-government for their people. It’s unacceptable and outrageous for Qadhafi to attack his own people, and the violence must stop.
The President is the commander-in-chief, but the Administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America’s role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished. Before any further military commitments are made, the Administration must do a better job of briefing members of Congress and communicating to the American people about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.”
Some will argue that Boehner is just looking for ways to criticize Obama, but it strikes me that he is actually offering solid advice.
As Lady Thatcher said, “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.” (The “vote” analogy, of course, is flawed since Congress has not voted to go into Libya — but you get my point).
Ronald Reagan was, perhaps, the last president to consistently use his rhetorical skills to lead, and then bring the public along with him. (President Clinton often let public opinion lead him — and George W. Bush took courageous stands, yet failed to educate or persuade the public along the way. Winning the vote without also winning the argument, as Bush found out, can be a fool’s paradise.)
Since 9-11, the American public has grown understandably “gun-shy” about any sort of limited military action. There is little faith that the U.S. can accomplish even a limited mission (such as a no-fly zone) without being sucked into a longer engagement. Part of the problem, I think, is that missions are not clearly defined for the American public, thus opening the door for “mission creep”.
President Obama has an opportunity to restore some faith in America’s ability to exert a positive influence in the world, but it will require effectively communicating why this was the right thing to do — and how it can be accomplished. … Oh yeah, and it will require actually accomplishing our goals — and then leaving. But it starts with winning the argument — something Obama has clearly not accomplished.
For a leader who often talks about “teachable moments,” this is his opportunity.