President Obama Lays Out Strong Defense for Military Action in Libya

BY David Chalian  March 29, 2011 at 8:39 AM EST

President Obama; photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The president told the nation Monday evening that the United States has “a responsibility to act” in Libya. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama spent much of his speech Monday night defending his decision to use military force in the coalition effort to protect civilians in Libya. His defense was forceful, grounded in a worldview where America still plays the role of unique leader, and tied to the country’s core values.

“For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act. That’s what happened in Libya over the course of these last six weeks,” President Obama said.

What the president did not do is present any real clarity on the endgame for U.S. military involvement, even in its now diminished support role. He also steered clear of attaching any kind of price tag to the continued military actions in Libya. By failing to truly address either of those concerns, he left himself open to relatively easy criticism from his Republican opponents.

“I welcome the President’s clarity that the U.S. goal is for Gadhafi to leave power,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “But an equal amount of clarity is still required on how we will accomplish that goal. U.S. and coalition airpower has decisively reversed Gadhafi’s momentum, but the potential for a long and bloody stalemate is still far too high.”

Though the speech may have lacked a crystal clear “Obama Doctrine” many have called for, in addition to arguing his case for action, the president accomplished three main goals to three distinct audiences.

  • 1) To independent swing voters wary of a prolonged conflict, President Obama made sure to deliver this message:

“Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation — to our military and to American taxpayers — will be reduced significantly.”

  • 2) To his most ardent supporters who fear slippage from the Nobel Peace Prize-winning president who ascended to the Oval Office on an anti-Iraq War message, he had this to say:

“If we tried to overthrow Gadhafi by force, our coalition would splinter. We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission, or risk killing many civilians from the air. The dangers faced by our men and women in uniform would be far greater. So would the costs and our share of the responsibility for what comes next.

“To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”

  • 3) And to his Republican critics (and many in the punditocracy who have picked up this meme) hammering away at a message aimed at portraying the president as a failed leader, he made sure to have a little something for them, too:

“There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are.

“Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.

“That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in Libya.”

The most immediate political effect of the speech is that the mounting pressure on the president to address the American people has been released, which should buy him some time with Congress and the voters.

How is it playing? Here is a smattering of some morning headlines:

The New York Times: “Defending Strikes, Obama Says He ‘Refused to Wait’”

The Washington Post: “Obama: US had responsibility to act”

The Wall Street Journal: “Obama Defends Libya Fight”

The New York Post: “No Mo!”

The Los Angeles Times: “Obama justifies U.S. intervention in Libya”

GOOD NEIGHBORS

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee isn’t in any hurry to make a decision about running for president.

Huckabee told reporters prior to a speech at the Baptist-affiliated Mississippi College in Clinton on Monday that he would likely have an announcement “sometime in early summer,” reports Elizabeth Crisp of the Clarion-Ledger.

The former 2008 presidential candidate said he’d only make another run at the White House if he thought he had a strong shot at becoming president. “If I think I can run and win, that may push me into the race,” Huckabee said.

The Arkansan also brushed aside some of the speculation surrounding his potential candidacy. “If you read where someone says I’m definitely not running, that persons an idiot,” Huckabee said.

Huckabee also praised Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, another potential Republican candidate.

“One of his greatest assets is, he is maybe the most brilliant political strategist in America today, bar none,” said Huckabee, according to the Associated Press.

Huckabee said he thinks there’s “an outstanding possibility” that Barbour will run. “If he does, he’ll be an amazingly strong candidate.”

Jonathan Martin of POLITICO reports that Barbour has been openly courting Huckabee in recent weeks.

“Huckabee aides dismiss any speculation about who their boss may get behind because he hasn’t yet publicly ruled out a second bid. But it seems clear that Barbour would be among the candidates well-positioned to get Huckabee’s support — particularly if the Mississippian emerges as the chief rival to Mitt Romney,” Martin writes.

If Huckabee decides not to mount a campaign, it would leave the portion of the Republican field seeking to consolidate the support of social conservatives, especially in Iowa where Evangelicals make up 60 percent of GOP caucus-goers, more room to run.

And with Huckabee still enjoying strong support from Christian conservatives, his endorsement will, no doubt, be assiduously courted by many in the field.

SENDING A MESSAGE

The next election is still a year-and a-half away, but Republican and Democratic leaders in the House are already testing out campaign material.

Alexander Burns of POLITICO reports the National Republican Congressional Committee will attempt to label Democrats as a party “Made in Washington,” intent on pursuing policies that run counter to the message sent by voters in last year’s midterm elections.

“The broad idea, according to NRCC officials, is to protect the outsider brand Republicans used to great effect in 2010. House Republicans hope voters will continue to see the GOP as an insurgent force, fighting against a federal government that’s largely in more liberal hands,” Burns writes.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., will deliver a speech Tuesday in Washington that criticizes Republicans for ignoring the top priority of the new Congress: job creation.

“In the last Congress, we took important steps to pull our country back from the brink of a depression and create as many as 2 million jobs — but we also know that millions of Americans remain out of work,” Rep. Hoyer is expected to say, according to prepared remarks obtained by the Morning Line. “So it’s surprising and disappointing that, almost three months into this new Congress, Republicans have failed to even propose a single job-creating bill. The people we represent deserve better.”

Rep. Hoyer plans to introduce a “Make It In America” bill that will help foster job-training partnerships between advanced manufacturing companies, community and technical colleges and local workforce investment boards as part of an ongoing effort to provide “individual businesses with the talent they need to grow.”

It will be interesting to see how both campaigns play out. Now that Republicans control the House they face a greater degree of difficulty in painting Washington with a negative broad-brush. Democrats, meanwhile, still have the White House and the Senate, meaning voters will likely consider them more responsible for the handling of the country’s top priorities — namely the economy — regardless of the policies pursued by House Republicans.

OBAMA FOR AMERICA, PART II

National Journal’s Marc Ambinder circles President Obama’s April 14 fundraising trip to Chicago as the date we may see a formal launching of the Obama re-election campaign, complete with video announcement and text messaging/email to supporters.

From Ambinder:

“The campaign-in-waiting, led by manager Jim Messina, will use the announcement as a mechanism to organize online, test responses, and perhaps even solicit donations….

“[T]he campaign will spend the summer and fall building capacity. Bundlers will secure pledges from donors and the DNC’s Organizing for America arm will transition to electoral mode. The White House will lead the messaging effort — Obama will be presidential — and there will be few press releases from the campaign, save for the announcement of fundraising totals and staff hires.

“Two former White House aides, Sean Sweeney and Bill Burton, are expected to form an independent political group that is expected to morph into the vehicle for outside expenditures during the campaign. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s loosening of campaign-finance laws, Obama’s team has decided that it will not unilaterally deprive itself of a weapon that Republicans used to batter Democrats in the 2010 election. In 2008, the Obama campaign strongly discouraged the formation of any outside group, preferring to centralize messaging inside a tight circle of advisers in Chicago.”

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