The president’s Libya speech may have been a strong oration, but it fudged a few key elements, from why we responded to Gaddafi to whether we’re at war, says Howard Kurtz. Plus, more Obama speech reaction.
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.
He even took on the thorniest dilemma— why Libya and not other brutal dictatorships?—with a burst of uplifting rhetoric: The fact that we can’t be the world’s policeman “cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what is right.” There was even a hint of American exceptionalism: Let others “turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” but that is not “who we are.”
It was a strong oration that played to the country’s best impulses, but also fudged key elements of the administration’s response.
Muammar Gaddafi would have inflicted a horrifying massacre “if we had waited one more day”: In fact, Obama resisted military action for a couple of weeks, setting back the rebels’ cause.
“After consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress”: Republicans say they were informed, not asked for input.
The U.S. goal was to “prevent a massacre,” and “establish a no-fly zone”: What we are doing is far more aggressive than that, bombing Gaddafi’s tanks and equipment to help the other side. In short, it is the word Obama didn’t utter: a war.
Who are the rebels we are trying to help topple the regime? He didn’t say.
And the glaring omission in Obama’s address: Who are the rebels we are trying to help topple the regime? He didn’t say.
By waiting until now, the president was able to declare victory (“We have stopped Gaddafi’s deadly advance”) and tout the handoff to NATO (which will now take the no-fly lead). He could tout the benefits of an international coalition compared to Bush-style unilateralism (“we went down that road in Iraq”).
Obama undoubtedly bought himself some breathing room, depending on how long the conflict drags on. He didn’t address that point, either, but with Gaddafi hanging on, this probably isn’t his last speech on the subject.
Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast's Washington bureau chief. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.