James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

Print Print Email Email Share Share Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close

loading...

TWE Quick Takes: Obama’s Speech on Libya Settles Little

by James M. Lindsay
March 29, 2011

President Barack Obama speaks about the conflict in Libya during an address at the National Defense University on March 28, 2011.

President Barack Obama speaks about the conflict in Libya during an address at the National Defense University on March 28, 2011. (Jim Young/courtesy Reuters)

I have a new post up over at CNN.com’s Global Public Square on President Obama’s address to the nation last night on Libya. I doubt that the speech did much to change the public debate.

If you believed in Operation Odyssey Dawn before the off-stage voice intoned “the President of the United States,” you probably thought the president offered a spirited and even moving defense of his refusal “to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

If, on the other hand, like me you are skeptical of the operation or are worried that the administration hasn’t thought through what comes next, you probably spent a lot of the speech muttering “wait a second.” The speech was much more about what the president has done than about than about the challenges we face next.

Either way, it’s a mistake to put much stock in speeches like the one we saw last night. As LBJ, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush can attest, even the most eloquent address to the nation is quickly forgotten if the public decides that a war is going badly.

Conversely, a poorly argued or badly delivered speech becomes a historical side note if the United States prevails in a conflict. (Quick: Do you remember what Clinton told the nation about Kosovo back in 1999?) In the end, deeds trump words.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required