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Opinion

Opinion

Obama blends realism, humanitarianism

March 30, 2011

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— President Obama declared victory Monday night for his limited military intervention in Libya. After just a week, he said, America has achieved its goal of preventing a slaughter of the rebels. So does that mean Obama is ready to provide similar U.S. military help to besieged protesters down the road in Bahrain, say, or Yemen or Syria?

The answer is probably not — and that was an important but unstated note of realism underlying his attempt to explain what has been a confusing Libya policy. Although Obama came around to supporting a “war of choice” to halt Moammar Gaddafi, sources make clear that he doesn’t see the Libya intervention as a precedent for similar interventions elsewhere in the region.

Obama offered a formula that’s similar to what I heard last week traveling with Defense Secretary Bob Gates: The United States should use military force unilaterally only when it involves core U.S. national interests; in other cases, such as Libya, the United States should act militarily only with the support of its allies. America won’t act as the world’s policeman, in other words. But it’s ready to act as “police chief,” in organizing international peacekeeping operations.

Here’s how Obama put it in one of the speech’s key passages: “American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well.”

The president doesn’t want to articulate this as an “Obama doctrine” — partly, no doubt, to leave himself maximum wiggle room — but it’s there for all to see. And if there’s any doubt about its roots in Obama’s larger intellectual framework, turn to Page 308 of his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” where he makes that same distinction between “imminent” core threats that require a unilateral response and ones where a multilateral approach is preferable.

White House officials tried to explain the “what’s next?” issues that Obama’s speech only hinted at. The initial military phase of the Libya campaign will be followed by political and diplomatic efforts (and, unstated, intelligence activities) aimed at creating a coalition government that can run Libya after Gaddafi is gone. The president understands that this is a messy mission, but at least it’s a mess where the United States will have company — with the United Nations and major European and Arab countries along for the bumpy ride.

Already, according to Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, the United States is in contact with rebels and potential “reconcilables” within the Gaddafi regime about framing a future government. The Libyan opposition is such a rag-tag group that the White House may actually welcome a little time to get to know the players better and help them create transitional governing structures.

Obama appears to be evolving a hybrid strategy, blending “realist” and “humanitarian interventionist” themes. Several weeks ago the administration seemed almost to be allying with Shiite protesters in Bahrain against the minority Sunni monarchy. But Obama has recognized that America has an abiding interest in the stability of neighboring Saudi Arabia, which sees Bahrain as its 51st state and won’t tolerate the overthrow of its ruling family.

Similarly, in the case of Yemen, Obama is balancing America’s enthusiasm for a democratic political change with its strategic need for a strong government that can combat al-Qaida’s operations in the Arabian peninsula. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is on his way out, but the White House sensibly wants to have a better understanding of what’s on the other side of this transition — and to make sure that counterterrorism policies will be sustained.

Obama’s speech Monday was a lesson in how presidencies are a matter of trial and error. A candidate who came into office partly on the strength of his opposition to the Iraq War has ended up committing more American troops on more battlefields. Yet he does it, each time reluctantly, delaying and debating before sending the military.

Obama gave a good Libya speech, but soon he needs to deliver a “Cairo II” speech that will articulate a coherent strategy for the region. As he said, “history is on the move” from Morocco to Iran — and yes, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, too. If Obama can connect his AfPak policy with the democratic wave that transformed Tunisia and Egypt, he will solve the core riddle of his presidency.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is davidignatius@washpost.com.

Comments

cato_the_elder 3 years, 9 months ago

"Obama read a good Libya speech off of a teleprompter, but soon he needs to read a “Cairo II” speech off of a teleprompter that will articulate a coherent strategy for the region."

Corrected. You're welcome.

ignati5 3 years, 9 months ago

I will concede that Ignatius generally supports Obama's policies, and that he may be termed a "committed liberal partisan" by one of your perspective. I might, from my own, add the phrase "wishy-washy," as he seems to have taken that territory over from the late David Broder among Liberal commentators. But in what way does this justify your characterization of him as "corrupt?" You diminish your own argument by laying on such gratuitous charges. BG

Flap Doodle 3 years, 9 months ago

"President Obama’s speech viewership keeps on slipping.

Monday night’s policy address on Libya delivered 25.6 million viewers, continuing the president’s trend of declining ratings for his issue-oriented telecasts.

The speech was down 12% from Obama’s address on Iraq last August (29.2 million), which fell 9% from his speech on the Gulf Coast oil spill in June (32.1 million), which in turn dropped 21% from his Afghanistan speech back in December of 2009 (40.8 million). Last night’s address could have been dinged by starting slightly before primetime, at 7:30 p.m. (which also kept Obama from making ABC choose between the commander-in-chief and airing Dancing With the Stars at its usual time).

The president’s telecast was carried across eight networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, TEL, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC."

http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/03/29/obama-libya-address-ratings/

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 9 months ago

But he got your attention. Are you a closet Obamaton, snap?

Flap Doodle 3 years, 9 months ago

It's hard to avoid looking at a train wreck.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 9 months ago

According to your first post, it's not all that hard.

For the record, I didn't watch the speech (nor did I watch many or much of the others.) But that doesn't mean I didn't hear them after the fact, and hear about them, from multiple sources. I suspect it's the same for most people.

Liberty275 3 years, 9 months ago

His approval rating just hit a new low too. When he starts arming alquaida in Libya it will probably go down some more.

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/52208.html

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 9 months ago

Ignatius is clearly an inside-the-beltway creature, and he clearly leans towards Democrats.

But this is actually a pretty decent (if incomplete) description of what appears to be an evolving policy.

Gaddafi is on the outs because his European patrons have decided that he can no longer be trusted to deliver the goods because of the uprising against dictators and autocrats all across N. Africa.

But his oil reserves are rather small potatoes in the grand scheme of the world oil market. The big players are the Saudis and their satellite states on the Arabian Peninsula, and they have long-standing ties within the US political establishment, particularly the Bush Crime Family. Don't expect the plug to ever be pulled on them-- because if it ever is, it could very well signal the start of a collapse of the world economy that makes the 2007-2008 collapse seem like a minor blip.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

I keep trying to figure out how George Bush, a guy I sincerely like on a personal level, could surround himself with such stupid self serving people and almost destroy our country.

But I am not surprised at why people would attack Obama with such ferocity and how many in the Democratic Party as well as the Republican Party are still trying to use him to get what is good for them and not what is good for the country.

Frankly, I am amazed that Obama is performing as well as he is with all the garbage politicians we have in government these days.

booyalab 3 years, 9 months ago

Republicans are attacking Obama on the Libyan thing because he is acting more like a patronizing nanny than a commander in chief. Vague appeals to humanitarianism are not a valid reason for going to war and we don't even know that it would help our national interests to support the rebels.

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

"I keep trying to figure out how George Bush, a guy I sincerely like on a personal level, could surround himself with such stupid self serving people and almost destroy our country."

Well, maybe you can figure it out while you watch Obama finish the job.

"I am amazed that Obama is performing as well as he is with all the garbage politicians we have in government these days."

Um, yeah, because his predecessor had such overwhelming support for his own policies, especially from those wonderful jayhawks in lawrence.

BTW, if you'd characterize Obama's presidency as 'doing well', you really need to up your standards.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

I think if we had elected McCain and Sarah Palin, I might be living in a junked car along a river bank somewhere wondering where my next meal came from.

I don't know what you expect when you get the disaster that Bush gave us.

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Well, it's good to have high aspirations. But don't worry, by the time Obama gets done, he'll have found a way to come and take the car, too.

Maybe while you were spending all that time on the riverbank, you could ponder the question of how many years will go by, and how much things will get worse, before this becomes Obama's disaster.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

Of course the Repugnuts did their best to trash Obama every step of the way.

We will have to let the historians sort this out someday, but I would consider this the lowest point in Congressional responsibility in the last 100 years.

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

Well, as long as history is written by the liberal elitist entitled whiners that populate Larryville, I'm sure it will match your delusions.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

If you study the history of the National Debt from before Reagan, you can easily figure out that there has been a reluctance to stop spending and a reluctance to tax. When you need to do the right thing, neither political party is willing to do so, therefore, the $13 Trillion debt.

Neither political party wants to accept blame for being traditionally stupid and selfish.

I think most of our Presidents get in, find out what is going on and after awhile end up feeling shell shocked.

It is like a King's court where you might want to help the people but you don't have any real power. Everyone is out to stab you in the back.

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

"neither political party is willing to do so, therefore, the $13 Trillion debt ... Neither political party wants to accept blame for being traditionally stupid and selfish."

Can't help but notice, though, that you reserve 99.9999999999999% of your criticism for just one of those parties.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

The Republicans have a big problem right now because their criticism of Obama has been way over the top. That is what most Americans believe. Now they have to show something or they look like goons.

The Democrats are extremely unpopular because they had the majority and got greedy and could not figure out how to divide up their spoils after the election and just started to look like a bunch of dumb people.

If I was Obama, I would do what he is doing now. Try to be a mediator and get the best deal possible for the American people. We don't need anymore heavy government spending because the economy is back on its feet and growing again. It is time to let your foot of the gas and show leadership.

The best thing we can do is get some positive leadership and to spread the pain around. There is not going to be reform without pain. We cannot stand anymore of this political partisanship because it is hurting the country.

We need spending cuts that make sense and some that are just down right painful. We also need tax reform and tax increases. All of this has to be done as smoothly as possible.

We need to get out of debt and grow our economy here, not offshore somewhere.

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

"That is what most Americans believe."

I would have thought that the results of the last election might have clued you in that 'most Americans' don't think like the people of Lawrence. Thankfully.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

I thought a lot more of FDR than I did Hoover's job as President.

Hoover evidently did not believe in government spending as a way to get America back on its feet.

FDR provided tremendous leadership at one the most difficult times in our history. It is only in the last 10 years that the Republican Party has made it part of their strategy to try to destroy his memory as a beloved President.

Anyone that does not appreciate the job FDR did isn't much of a scholar.

Was he perfect? Did he always make perfect decisions? Absolutely not. But at least he had the guts to make tough decisions.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

They say the winners always write the history books and watching the Repugnuts rewrite history everyday on Fox news and during Glenn Beck "lectures" is almost funny if it wasn't so sad.

The wingnuts always try to tell us what we are seeing and hearing and what it means. We "common" Americans are not allowed to have our own opinions anymore. We have to get them from the almighty political parties.

What I am saying is that Americans are not so dumb as you think and we shall see how you explain the next election results which will be far more meaningful.

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

"They say the winners always write the history books and watching the Repugnuts rewrite history everyday on Fox news and during Glenn Beck "lectures" is almost funny if it wasn't so sad."

Definition of 'rewrite history': Saying something that doesn't match your delusions.

"What I am saying is that Americans are not so dumb as you think and we shall see how you explain the next election results which will be far more meaningful."

Actually, you're absolutely correct that Americans are not so dumb as you think, which explains the results of the LAST election.

Mike Ford 3 years, 9 months ago

wow, the same five angry white guys doing their daily Obama bashing with no facts. refreshing....

notajayhawk 3 years, 9 months ago

If you are a Democrat or a Larryville-looney-lib, you absolutely can not let facts get in the way of supporting Obama.

There, fixed that for ya'.

pace 3 years, 9 months ago

I never thought Obama could miraculously fix the many problems Bush and co. left us, combined with the corporate's strangle hold on Congress. He is doing a good job, I wish Congress was. They, neither side have handled jobs or foreclosures.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 9 months ago

My point was simply that once again Obama gets credit for "giving a speech" in the same context as, for example, Martin Luther King's having given his "I have a Dream" speech. In reality, when Obama's without his teleprompter he's actually much less articulate than was George W. Bush, one of our least accomplished presidential public speakers.

Bush never made any gaffe that can approach Obama's calling a military corpsman a "corpse-man."

If you want to find out how bad a public speaker Obama really is, just google "Obama gaffes." You'll then find out what "lame" really means.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 9 months ago

That's not surprising, given your low level of reading comprehension.

Flap Doodle 3 years, 9 months ago

"...he certainly ruined the lives of thousands on 9/11..." Actually that was a bunch of insane radical Muslim guys that did that.

mickeyrat 3 years, 9 months ago

Indeed, the whole "teleprompter" noise is a red herring. President Obama at least knows what he wants to say, and thinks about it. Equating a teleprompter with a dull mind is disingenuous. See below: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/president-obama-edits-a-speech.jpg I seriously doubt anyone will find such an item in the Dubya library.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 9 months ago

If Obama's mind were only dull, it would be a significant improvement.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 9 months ago

Because you're a slow learner, I'll say it once again: The point is that Obama was originally hailed by the liberal media as a great "speechmaker," when in reality all he's ever done is read from a teleprompter. Without it, he's as dull as a rock.

Very much like you, I might add.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 9 months ago

Interesting how you assumed that my response was directed at you, given its location after I posted it. It's also intriguing that you include the Bush family among your group of "...many great speakers - especially presidents." I certainly wouldn't have. I doubt that you know anything about public speaking.

As for writing, you're entitled to your opinion. You've demonstrated many times that your problem is with thinking, which makes all of your opinions suspect.

Liberty275 3 years, 9 months ago

"Can someone explain, once and for all, what is so motherscratchin' bad about using a teleprompter?"

If you believe the words coming out of you mouth, you shouldn't need to read them off of a screen.

booyalab 3 years, 9 months ago

Obama blends oil, water

...or at least talks about doing it, but he makes it sound effortless. So it must be!

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

When you watch the long slow moving train of Republican candidates and who they choose as their hot new stars, it gives you a good idea that they are in a hopeless tail spin and have been for a very very long time.

I don't think this is good for the country because some of the issues they represent are also my issues. The right wing extremist wing of their party has turned them into a bunch of Neanderthals looking to make a come back in the evolutionary chain. But it isn't going to happen with recycled nuts like Newt Ginrich and dying flash in the pans like Sarah Palin.

Now we are getting the ultimate con man/egomaniac Trump. Donald probably needs to one day crash into a wall of failure big enough to finally bring his oversized head back to normal but I don't want to let him do it at the expense of our country.

Cutting spending so you can increase corporate welfare is what they have been doing since Reagan and I cannot blame Reagan for that because we needed to give the economy a boost. It was the wing nuts who turned tax cuts into a religion and the left wing nuts who continued to run up our bill.

jayhawklawrence 3 years, 9 months ago

I think the best thing that Americans can do is to become an Independent since both political parties are essentially corrupted by power and money.

It is not good for Americans to be so loyal to a particular political party. Especially in these days when the extremists are dominating.

I believe the Democrat Party is more diverse than the Republican Party and is still able to counter its left wing tendencies, but they still play in that sandbox from time to time.

If only we had people in government that could balance a check book and the competence to actually solve problems in a practical way. We might have time to plan for a future that might bring severe challenges both environmental and economic.

One thing I am convinced about is that our founders counted on an independent and moral citizenry to control government through our unique form of Democracy. They did not plan for us to be controlled by political parties. Yet, that is what is happening today.

Getting your information from one news source or the same political hacks is not what the founders had in mind.

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