Anticipating the Libya Speech

In a few hours, President Obama will address the nation for the first time about the war in Libya he entered nine days ago.  There is much speculation about what he will say.

CNN quotes a “senior administration official” who says the speech will include “themes that have been in development for weeks.”  Were they still in development during the Brazilian junket?  Is anyone really looking forward to hearing “themes” tonight?

The President is also expected to tout the “transition to NATO control.”  That transition was not written into the original mission plan.  It came about after days of desperately searching for someone to take charge, and pressuring Turkey to drop its objections to NATO grabbing the hot Libyan potato.  Were the American people terribly concerned about putting NATO in command of this operation, or were they more concerned about Americans fighting in it?

Everyone is hoping for greater “clarity” from the Administration, especially after a round of Sunday talk shows that featured Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking over each other like Hoops and Yoyo.  Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Newt Gingrich called on the President to be “unequivocal” in stating “the goal of the current campaign is to oust Qaddafi.”  It’s hard to imagine any other outcome that could be counted as a win for the United States, so it would be a relief to hear Obama concede to reality and say it out loud.  Hopefully his fractured cabinet will be taking notes, to get their stories straight.

Doubtless we’ll hear a lot about what a monster Qaddafi is.  We’ll be more interested to hear about the exact selection process used for deciding which monsters we’re prepared to bomb.  It would also be nice to hear something about the Libyan rebels we’re fighting for.  At this point, it would be comforting if Obama gave the convincing impression he has information he refuses to share with us, rather than having no information to share.

Naturally the Republicans in Congress, and a few of the more spirited Democrats, will want to know why Obama did not consult them before initiating the operation.  There is no good answer for this, so we’ll probably get some bromides about “the fierce urgency of now,” and some effort to claim the approval of the United Nations makes Congressional approval redundant. 

Writing for CNN, David Frum presented an odd prototype of a speech based around lecturing the American people about where Libya can be found on the map.  (Frum might have thrown that in just to get Obama’s attention, because he knows how much the President loves to give lectures.)  Frum then suggests the war will “send a message to our European allies” that “you owe us.”  I guess Bosnia didn’t convey that message strongly enough in the post-Cold War world, and the telegram we sent from Omaha Beach has grown old and faded.

The safest bet about the contents of Obama’s address will be plenty of reminders about what he “has always said,” and how incredibly clear he’s always been.  Maybe there will be some hard answers mixed in with the mass hypnosis.