When both the president and Congress leave town, as this week with Obama in Latin America and with Congress on spring recess, Washington becomes quiet, a bit empty, and, largely, void of any big news. Not this week, because of two major international crises in Japan and Libya, which have completely overshadowed Obama’s important trip to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador.
After the Japanese nuclear disaster, it appears that American confidence in nuclear power has dropped dramatically. But the disaster has not led to an intensive debate in the country on the future of nuclear power. President Obama has so far maintained that nuclear power is, and remains, an important part of the new, greener, energy policies that he advocates. He has not been met with opposition on this point, despite an apparent growing concern among Americans for nuclear power.
On Libya it is different, where Washington is experiencing a vivid debate on the U.S. role and Obama’s leadership. The questions are many: about America’s future role in the multilateral military effort, about what multilateralism really means, and about the final goal of the intervention – is it to overthrow Gaddafi?
Leslie Gelb, for example, the former New York Times foreign affairs columnist and former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is highly skeptical of the military intervention in Libya. In an article for the Daily Beast called “The horrible Libya hypocrisies”, Gelb writes that the U.S. has no vital interests in Libya but that Obama was “stampeded” into action by a combination of the neocons and liberal interventionists.
Commentators on the right direction are criticizing Obama for not having taken the lead and acted strongly enough as it is deemed an American president. But in the country at large seems to approve strongly of Obama’s handling of the Libyan crisis. 68 percent of respondents in a new CBS News poll support the air attacks against Libya and the imposing of a no-fly zone there. And over half of those surveyed approve of Obama’s actions.
His support among Republicans on Libya is much larger than their support for his economic and budget policy. That could prove to be an advantage for Obama ahead of next year’s presidential election.