It used to be – in the “good old days” – that in foreign policy crises, and especially when America went to war, they kept up in Washington, across party lines, and the president did not criticize.
It is, of course, no longer so. President Obama is criticized from the right but also from the left. In today’s Washington, the most important thing seems to be, as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said after the election last fall, that the number one priority is to see to it that President Obama is not re-elected next year.
So, in the case of Libya, there is never a word of praise for the President, no matter what he says or does. He was criticized for not creating a no-fly zone fast enough over Libya, and when he did it he was criticized for going in without a goal other than protecting civilians and without articulating an ultimate goal of intervention. How far he is willing to go? Until Gaddafi is deposed?
We do not know. But straight answers are not always easy to give in complex situations like now in Libya. However, in this case, the critics are also to some extent right, for it is not so much what Obama said as that he has not said much at all. In contrast to its predecessors in the White House ahead of impending military conflict, Obama has not spoken to the nation on television. Not until tonight, Monday evening. Still, it will not be a speech from the Oval Office at the White House, according to tradition, but from the National Defense University at Fort McNair, just outside Washington.
We’ll see what he says, but it seems unlikely to me that it will be very different from what he said in his traditional Saturday speech last week, when he said that a humanitarian catastrophe has been avoided and countless civilian lives have been saved. The international intervention is exactly the way in which the international community should act, he continued. The U.S. should not and cannot intervene wherever there is a crisis in the world, but it is our responsibility to act when innocent lives are at stake and when its leaders threaten bloodshed, as in Libya.
Not a word about the fate of Gaddafi. The resolution in the UN Security Council also says nothing about this, so Obama is sticking to the script. But Americans want more. They want clarity and they want to know how it will end. Patience has never been America’s strong suit, especially in foreign policy, but they’ll probably have to wait a bit longer, also after tonight.