White House Avoids Oval Office Address On Libya For Fear That Someone Might Think There's Some Sort Of 'War' Underway
It's been just about a week since the United States started doing some, you know, shooting hundreds of cruise missiles at Libya -- no biggie -- and you might be wondering why we haven't had that moment where President Barack Obama sits in the Oval Office and explains at length about what we're up to and what the plan is and what we hope to achieve.
Well, per Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown comes the answer: the president doesn't want to do something that makes anyone worry that there's a war on or anything. This is just some light "kinetic military action," people! That is barely like getting to second base with a war in Libya.
Administration officials haven't ruled out a big speech, but Obama is reluctant to make a major address on Libya until the United States hands over most command and combat duties to its allies.
That's not to say the president won't talk about Libya over the next few days, aides say, but he's not likely to succumb to pressure to deliver a long, explanatory address to outline his elusive endgame to the nation until the path ahead becomes clearer.
Yes, once the White House figures out what all the "kinetic action" is likely to achieve, they'll go back and talk about how that was what they were looking to do in the first place. Of course, there may be a few holdouts who prefer that a "clear path" be established ahead of flying hundreds of sorties over Africa, but have you lived in America for the past 20 years? "Clear paths" are for suckers, man, let's just mount up!
If the White House has its way, this won't be a matter we'll address in detail until such time as we've handed off the mission -- whatever that is -- to our coalition partners and fade to a supporting role in the conflict.
"We are already seeing a significant reduction in the number of U.S. planes involved in the operation as the number of planes from other countries increase," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said after the decision by NATO. "Today we are taking the next step. All 28 allies have also now authorized military authorities to develop an operations plan for NATO to take on the broader civilian protections mission."
Go ahead and mark "broader civilian protections mission" down as what you'll hear at any forthcoming presidential address on the matter. Of course, if you want some real talk on the matter, you should recognize that the "civilians" we are "protecting" are rebels on one side of a civil war. "Protecting" those "civilians" means we are leveling the playing field between those rebels and the pro-Gaddafi forces. As the battle between those two sides would naturally be asymmetric, "leveling the playing field" is actually tantamount to "picking a side in a civil war," which in turn suggests that there is a preferred outcome to the conflict in mind, and I don't know about you but it seems to me that anytime you are pursuing an preferred outcome by means of cruise missiles, that's pretty conventionally known as "war."
All this comes against the backdrop of "House and Senate members in both parties" becoming "increasingly uneasy." Which is interesting, considering it was Jack Reed, Democrat, who said on Sunday that the president should notify Congress under the War Powers Act (which Obama did, in fact, do) and Lindsey Graham, Republican, who said on Sunday, "I don't feel a need to bless this action before he took it. I'd be glad to vote on it afterwards."
So Congress will withhold judgment until such time as they know whether the outcome will reflect well upon them if they retroactively approve it. And if it isn't to their liking, they will bravely declare, "Well, we shouldn't have done that, as it turns out." (It's really no wonder why they are so "uneasy!")
At any rate, maybe at some point Obama will make some sort of address to the nation, and maybe he won't. Chances are, if he does, our involvement in Libya will probably be couched in the same euphemistic terms we've already heard. As Spencer Ackerman points out, this "fits a pattern with President Obama: escalating U.S. military commitments while portraying them as essentially finite and limited."
If things stay true to form, then, what sort of critique is any forthcoming address on Libya likely to receive from the press? If you answered, "Not a particularly robust one," then well done, you! The media will produce some polls, assess how Libya affects the reelection hopes of various politicians, and possibly get really worked up about a White House "messaging crisis," but the actual impact of the policy on the lives of ordinary people will remain a gauzy abstraction.
And that's too bad, because if this wasn't the case, there's a slight chance our leaders might somehow surmise that they would be held accountable for their half-baked military decisions.