Finally: Obama To Give Libya Address Tonight

Posted: Mar 28, 2011 8:25 AM
More than a week after authorizing a US military action in Libya, the president will explain his rationale for entering the conflict in a speech to the American people later this evening:

President Barack Obama, facing increasing pressure from Congress to clarify the U.S. military’s mission in Libya, will address the nation in a televised speech on Monday.

The president is expected to lay out his explanation for the U.S. involvement in Libya. Obama — who offered a brief explanation for his decision to support an expanded no-fly zone a week ago while touring South America — has been waiting for the U.S. to hand off primary command and combat responsibilities before charting the course forward to the American people, administration officials have said

Unlike the president’s Dec. 2009 speech on the war in Afghanistan, his remarks on Monday are scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET — before the primetime TV viewing hours — and will be delivered not from the Oval Office, but at the National Defense University in Washington. The timing and location reflect Obama’s reluctance to equate what he regards as a smaller, time-limited, United Nations-sanctioned mission in Libya with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In another sign the administration was heeding criticism that it has moved without adequate consultation on Libya, Obama convened a conference call with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders Friday afternoon.

These decisions are welcome, if belated, ones; although they may strike some as a bit backwards and reactionary.  Reactionary, because -- much like our involvement in the conflict itself -- they appear to be dictated by outside forces, rather than a strong, coherent strategy.  Backwards, because the president might have laid out the case for war (or war-related euphemism du jour) prior to engaging in it, especially in the absence of significant Congressional consultation.  Also note how the business of explaining the president's decision to the American people is conveyed as something of an afterthought:

The administration has always intended to make its case to the American people, but Carney’s Thursday promise that the president would do it “soon” – upgraded to “very near future” on Friday — came amid withering bipartisan criticism that Obama has waged an unexplained, perhaps unnecessary war.

It's as if the White House's attitude on the matter has been, "We'll explain all this to Congress and the public if and when we get around to it."  That's certainly a far cry from Obama's war-and-peace posturing of years past (to say nothing of Biden's).  To wit:

On Congressional oversight - Senator Barack Obama - December 20, 2007:

"The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." 

(Incidentally, Obama's Secretary of Defense now says the Libya engagement satisfies neither of those criteria).

On forthrightness with the public - Senator Barack Obama - August 8, 2007:

"But the fact of the matter is that when we don’t talk to the American people — we’re debating the most important foreign policy issues that we face, and the American people have a right to know. It is not just Washington insiders that — are part of the debate that has to take place with respect to how we’re going to shift our foreign policy. This is a seminal question."

Secretary of State Clinton has begun offering an innovative explanation for why Congressional approval really wasn't necessary in this case:

“Well, we would welcome congressional support,” the Secretary said, “but I don’t think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or President Obama was speaking of several years ago.”

Fascinating.  This war is so multilateral (unlike Iraq, as she heavily implies), the executive branch needn't trouble the legislative branch over its authorization or conduct.  I'm not sure where this multilateralist standard appears in the Constitution or the oft-cited War Powers Resolution, but no worries -- Obama is cool and awesome

Also, as I pointed out on Friday, our military campaign in Libya boasts the smallest international coalition of any modern conflict, at 15 participating nations -- less than half the size of the US-led coalition behind the supposedly "unilateral" action Secretary Clinton decries in her statement.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson marvels at the moral incoherence and inconsistency inherent in the administration's current position:

One can argue about the need for consultation with Congress before using major military force. Most of us think the requirement is essential, with ample constitutional support. But the question takes on new dimensions if the commander-in-chief is a progressive, antiwar, Nobel Peace Prize–winning politician whose political career was predicated on demanding just such congressional oversight of presidential war powers — and his vice president has strutted and boasted that he would impeach a president for doing just this sort of preemptive bombing against a Middle East country that poses no immediate threat to U.S. security.

...It reflects a level of hypocrisy that makes a mockery of his entire worldview, past and present. Fairly or not, Obama almost single-handedly is rewriting the history of dissent between 2003 and 2008 — from Guantanamo, renditions, tribunals, Predators, Iraq, and preventative detention to now-optional war-making in the Middle East — and proving that prior loud protests were more partisan attacks than matters of principle.