This was an important speech for the president, but he seemed disengaged from the task at hand, which was to convey a sense of urgency about the situation in Libya. Plus, more Obama speech reaction.
This was meant to be a very serious speech. You could tell by the large number of American flags (eight) behind the podium where President Obama strove to shed a little light on exactly why we are militarily involved in Libya.
No question it was an important speech. For the past week, POTUS has taken hits from every direction less for his actions than for his failure to explain the rationale underlying those actions—and what they say about his broader philosophy of foreign policy. “What exactly is the Obama Doctrine?” critics have wailed. “Clarity,” then, was the watchword of the evening.
While nothing Obama said was especially illuminating, it was all very deliberate and thoughtful and rational. It was not, however, inspiring or compelling or passionate.
To this end, Obama attempted to lead us, step-by-step, through the events that brought us to this place: He talked about sanctions and frozen assets and international coalitions and Security Council resolutions. He spoke of Gaddafi’s horrific crimes and the fragile nature of the neighboring societies. During the final 10 minutes, he even made a valiant (if ultimately unsatisfying) stab at defining his threshold for U.S. military intervention. While nothing Obama said was especially illuminating, it was all very deliberate and thoughtful and rational.
It was not, however, inspiring or compelling or passionate. The president stumbled over his words, screwed up his inflections, and had even more unnatural phrasing than usual. And despite the studiously grave look on his face—which veered now and again toward testiness—you never got the sense that he was feeling the message he was preaching.
This is a president known for cranking up the rhetorical charisma when addressing an issue that inspires him and phoning it in when explaining one that doesn’t. And more than once in tonight’s half-hour sales pitch, I couldn’t help but feel that Obama was considerably less fired up about conveying the urgency of the situation in Libya than he was in shooting down criticisms of his response.
Michelle Cottle is a Washington reporter for The Daily Beast.