So last night President Obama spoke to the nation. I thought he was going to make everything clearer. He didn’t. I think I’m just as confused as the next guy:
Mr. Obama sought to add coherence to a month of mixed messages on Libya. He has said Mr. Gadhafi must go, but isn’t personally a military target. The mission first was to establish a no-fly zone, but escalated to heavy bombardment of ground forces. It ostensibly was humanitarian, but the Libyan government says the U.S. has killed civilians. Obama promised the mission was restricted to preventing Gadhafi from killing rebels, and hasn’t provided arms to the rebels to use against Gadhafi. Although the president said NATO will take over no-fly zone and other military operations this week, the U.S. will continue in supportive roles.
It remains unknown how and when this unclear, if not confused, policy will end. The president said the U.S. can’t police every human-rights violation. But he didn’t say what will happen if Middle East nations with governments friendlier to the U.S. continue their crackdowns, sometimes lethal, on pro-democracy protesters, threatening massacre of innocents.
The president said earlier Monday that U.S. involvement will be “limited, both in time and scope.” We have his word this war won’t be eternal. That’s not terribly encouraging, considering his previous promises and proclamations.
The speech was filled with a bunch of false choices. This is one of Obama’s favorite rhetorical tactics. As Ross Douthat points out, this allows him to “distance himself from straw men of the left and right to better sell himself as a post-partisan figure.” Listen to Obama speak, and you’ll here a lot of “some say” and “others say” like you did last night:
On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all – even in limited ways – in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.
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.
See? Obama sets up straw men to his left and right, so he appears to be in the rational middle ground. That way, he can’t be wrong. He’s just being moderate.
Another thing Obama did in the speech, as tweeted by Jim Antle of the American Spectator, was promise “regime change results at no regime change prices!” Obama said:
… there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.
So we want Gaddafi out of power, but we won’t do anything to actually kick him out? This is what happens when you rely on a U.N. mandate. You aren’t allowed to institute regime change (same thing happened in Iraq during Desert Storm).
Obama went on later in the speech, talking in code about regime change:
what we can do – and will do – is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Qaddafi leaves power.
So we will try to hasten Gaddafi’s exit, without actually forcing him to exit. That seems like an awfully complicated way of getting rid of a guy. Why don’t we just kill him?
Oh, wait, that isn’t allowed. Unless American declares war against Libya, and to declare war the country must pose an immediate threat, the military isn’t allowed to kill a national leader. Judge Andrew Napolitano mentioned this last night during his “Freedom Watch” program after the big speech.
So did Obama answer my questions?
Not really. He said nothing about who the rebels are. He did not lay out a timeline for how long American will be involved. He failed to explain why Congress was never consulted. The speech was a big murky mess. Yes, Obama is good at speaking, but once you start listening to the actual words, there is nothing there. As National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson wrote last night:
Somehow, I don’t think Qaddafi will be impressed enough to step down; the European allies will be somewhat confused over the degree of future American support; the rebels will wonder whether they should take Tripoli or should settle for a zone of sanctuary; critics won’t know whether Obama will ever consult the Congress; we still don’t know why Qaddafi was worse than an Assad or Ahmadinejad — or who or what the rebels are and what the U.S. role will be to ensure something better than Qaddafi.
Other than that, it was yet another well-delivered, split-the-difference, mellifluous Obama speech that said essentially nothing of substance.
Exactly. But most importantly, it did nothing to show the American people why we are there. I get the whole “humanitarian” thing, but there are humanitarian crises all over the world. It’s not enough for Obama to say, “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
Writing at Power Line, John Hinderaker makes some good points about the speech:
Obama identified no American interest at issue in our Libyan venture. Obama did say that it was not in the American national interest to permit Qaddafi’s intended massacre of Libyans in Benghazi (“It was not in our national interest to let that happen”), but one could just as well say that it was not in the American national interest to prevent it either. His assertion is a vacuous verbal formulation. He’s moving his lips, but he’s not saying anything. There may be an American national interest involved, even if not a vital one, as Secretary Gates asserts, but it plays no role in Obama’s stated rationale.
Whereas other American presidents have undertaken the burden of leadership to advance the American national interest in a multilateral coalition, Obama subordinates America’s role in a multilateral coalition to serve the general will of the international community. He is at once pathetic and dangerous.
Subordinating America’s role and failing to establish America’s national interest. Pathetic and dangerous indeed.