If the past is a reliable predictor, most Americans will not be watching tonight when President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the National Defense University to talk about our recent attack on Libyan air defense systems and other targets.
His choice of venue is peculiar in that it is designed to downplay the event. The scuttlebutt here in your nation’s capital has it that Obama, by not speaking from the Oval Office, is attempting to distance the action in Libya from the more serious U.S. military incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. This is, frankly, kind of odd since it is a serious thing anytime an American commander-in-chief puts U.S. troops in harm’s way.
More than likely, what was initially envisioned as a short-term, one-time attack comparable to what Reagan undertook against Qadhafi is spinning out of control into something that may keep the United States there longer than originally planned—if there even was a plan to begin with. From the weekend chat shows, it is clear that even his top advisers are not sure —or at least are not in agreement about what is going on. [Vote now: What should Obama say about Libya tonight?]
Obama is reaping what he failed to sow. The attack on Libya came almost out of the blue, as though the United States were goaded into it by the belligerence of the French and other European governments. It is not at all clear what the compelling U.S. interest is and why Libya is different from Egypt, from Bahrain, from Sudan, from Yemen, or from any place else in northern Africa and the Middle East where rebels are trying to drive autocrats from power.
The current president did not, as George W. Bush was so careful to do regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, lay out to the American people the case for military invention in Libya. The idea that we were defending the rebels— who some published reports indicate may have been joined by al Qaeda terrorists over the last few days—just doesn’t ring true, certainly when the wider context of where the United States has failed to intervene is considered. [See photos of the unrest in Libya.]
By going to the country now, after the action has been taken, Obama is doing something akin to showing up a day late and a dollar short. Congress was not consulted, the American people were not prepared, and the nation has acquired what may be a new long-term military commitment at the same time we are engaged in at least two others. It is not so much a failed policy—only time will tell in that sense—but a foolish one. Leadership requires that President Obama take ownership of the incursion into Libya, something he has, by his actions thus far, failed to do.