Matt Lewis

Obama’s Libya Speech: What Worked; What Didn’t

Nine days after the campaign in Libya opened, President Obama gave a prime-time televised address Monday night at the National Defense University in Washington.

Putting aside the delay in explaining the mission to the nation — a fact that is difficult to set aside — there were certainly some strong moments in the speech.

As Howard Kurtz noted, “Barack Obama made a clear and unambiguous moral case for intervening in Libya on Monday night, raising the question of why he waited nine long days to begin the task of persuading the country.”

Obama’s rationale for going into Libya won’t satisfy everyone, but it was important that he, at least, explained his position.  As Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly said after the speech: “You may not agree with it, but Mr. Obama can explain his position.”

Like O’Reilly, I was heartened to hear Obama’s American exceptionaism rhetoric.  Some will dismiss this as Wilsonian or label him a “neocon” — but believing that our nation has a unique moral purpose that transcends strict adherence to a “realist” foreign policy could also be labeled Reaganesque.  In any event, Obama showed moral leadership — something he is not known for doing.

As in his presidential campaign, Obama also employed a rhetorical trick, whereby he would present his opponents arguments in, perhaps, a more coherent way than they could themselves — only to then dismiss them.  For example, he employed this straw man technique in dismissing the notion that other parts of the world are in greater need of humanitarian aide.

“America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs,” Obama said,”But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”

But while Obama did address some important questions — including whether or not we would put boots on the ground (he said we won’t) — there were some important questions which he did not address.

Obama never mentioned the role the U.S. Congress should play in declaring war (in a 2007 speech, he said presidents do not have “unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”)  He also failed to address the important question regarding exactly who the rebels are that we are protecting.

In terms of laying out the moral case for intervention, an important motivational role for any leader, Obama performed better than I expected.  But when it came to answering all the remaining questions that continue to plague him, last night, he earned an “incomplete”…

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  • russ311

    Nice post NeoKon, and thanks for the link to that impressive blog from Betsy’s Page. I didn’t realize there were possibly any conservatives left in North Carolina nor academia. (jk…sort of) Curious. I’ve now linked the blog to follow what more she may have to say.

    The speech simply highlighted how Big Bro is nothing but a mannequin and the NATO hand off is just more window dressing for his pose as The Great Leader. But the display being a facade is obvious to anyone who is not squinting too hard:

    “NATO has insisted that it was seeking only to protect civilians and not to give air cover to an opposition march. But that line looked set to become even more blurred.”

    NATO Reportedly Delaying Planned Takeover of Military Command in Libya

    • russ311

      Excuse me for the misnomer, NeoKong and for not properly making this a reply to your post.

  • NeoKong

    That speech was a bunch of crap.
    Obama has never one time shown an interest in protecting innocent civilians.
    Why now….?
    Anybody who thinks that speech was clear and unambiguous has been smoking crack.
    It was all smoke and mirrors filled with strawman arguments as Betsy’s Page points out.

    Now, just as there are those who have argued against intervention in Libya, there are others who have suggested that we broaden our military mission beyond the task of protecting the Libyan people, and do whatever it takes to bring down Gaddafi and usher in a new government.

    I don’t know of any serious analyst or politician who has advocated a full-scale invasion of Libya. As usual Obama is setting up one of his straw-dog arguments in order to shoot it down and set himself up as the one of the moderate middle.

    He never addressed how he does an end run around Congress.
    He never stated how we leave.
    He tried to tell us that NATO would take over when everybody knows that NATO is basically the U.S.
    Who the hell are these rebels we are helping and how do we know they won’t be killing civilians…? If they don’t then it will be a first in the Middle East.
    Who controls Libya when this is all over…?
    Then there is the little matter of the $33 billion that Obama has decided to “hold” for the Libyan people.
    Where is that money to be going….?

    This whole thing stinks to high heaven as an action to benefit a third party.
    There is a lot of money and oil involved and it will be interesting to see who controls it all a year from now.