Tuesday, March 29, 2011
SAN DIEGO Whenever a President delivers a speech on an important policy matter, you need to give him a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Did he succeed in explaining his controversial position and did he make you believe that he knew what he was doing? I watched Barack Obama’s Libya speech on YouTube about 9 o'clock this morning. But I got my answer prior to that by reading the first couple of paragraphs of a news story about it.
Obama said he sent warplanes to hit Libyan military targets because he refused to wait for scenes of slaughter before taking action. At the same time he said he would not send in U.S. troops to forcibly oust Gadhafi. For now, that’s all I need to hear.
NPR’s story on the Obama speech this morning said it looked like the president was developing an “Obama doctrine” on foreign policy. You have to put the Libya action in the context of George W. Bush’s practically unilateral mission against Iraq, which Obama said cost “thousands of lives and nearly a trillion dollars.”
Obama said in Libya we’re not going down “that road.” He told us the U.S. and its allies would make it their goal to unseat Gadhafi but the U.S. would not do it through military means.
I don’t know if Obama outlined a foreign policy doctrine. But he did make sure we knew that the air attack on Libya was multilateral and included the support of Arab nations. He told us that stopping mass bloodshed in Libya, by government troops, was in the American interest because allowing that bloodshed would have sent waves of refugees into Egypt and Tunisia, destabilizing those countries along with much of the Middle East.
Obama left himself some wiggle room because he didn’t spend all of his time talking about protecting American interests and making sure we were acting as part of a team. He made many references to upholding our “values.” An analysis story in the New York Times pointed out Obama spoke of this in a very similar way to George W. Bush.
America has a history of defending the defenseless and fighting for freedom around the globe, they both said, and the U.S. cannot always stand by when brutal oppression takes place. Yet Obama made a point of saying the U.S. cannot police the world. So far, Barack Obama’s action in Libya has been much more similar to the restraint that George Bush Sr. showed in the first Gulf War.
I’m sure plenty of people were not satisfied with what they heard. Some members of Congress are upset that they didn’t give their approval (Obama said he consulted with members of Congress before he acted) and some people still want to know when all this ends. Barack Obama didn’t say. There are also some folks who don’t believe multilateralism cannot be applied to all situations. Check out this column by David Brooks.
All I know is I left Obama’s speech with a much better feeling about the action in Libya than I had going into it. Let me know what you think about the president’s speech. Was it a hit or a miss?