Not only did the president fail to say anything new about the war in Libya, he ignored criticism about bypassing Congress and questions about the length of the mission and our stake in it. Plus, more Obama speech reaction.
There was not much in President Obama’s speech on Libya that he and administration officials had not already said before. Dwelling at some length on the background of the U.S. and allied war, he largely elaborated on the initial remarks that he made prior to the start of the bombing campaign. The president mentioned his consultation with members of Congress almost in passing, ignoring the serious and legitimate criticism that he had bypassed Congress in starting a major military action on his own authority.
Obama boasted about the anticipated handover of control to NATO and the “supporting” role of U.S. forces, which conveniently overlooked the ongoing escalation of U.S. involvement in Libya’s civil war, including low-flying AC-130 and A-10 aircraft. The speech created the impression that U.S. involvement in Libya will be brief, but Obama addressed none of the calls for defining the mission’s goals, duration, or cost. The public needed a forthright explanation and accounting of the risks that a Libyan war entails, and it received bromides instead.
He failed to explain how “our interests” were at stake in Libya, perhaps because he knows that there is no argument for the Libyan war based on U.S. interests.
During his address to the nation, Obama claimed, “When our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.” What he failed to do was to explain how “our interests” were at stake in Libya, perhaps because he knows that there is no argument for the Libyan war based on U.S. interests. The president invoked securing the fortunes of Tunisian and Egyptian democracy, the need to deter dictators from using violence against protesters, and the credibility of the U.N. Security Council, but he did not defend this war in terms of serving American interests. Ruling out regime change as something that would destroy the coalition, Obama has accepted overseeing a stalemate between exceedingly weak rebels and an entrenched regime.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor at The American Conservative and columnist for The Week. He blogs regularly at Eunomia.