Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Communication Breakdown

Monday night President Obama addressed the nation over America’s role in the Libyan War – and it is a war – which left me with one question. Why can’t this president express himself as clearly as he did last night more often? Of all the maddening character flaws that Obama possesses, none have proven more detrimental to his administration than his inability to connect the dots effectively so that the electorate gets him. It is a flaw that has frustrated his supporters and delighted his foes.

For almost two weeks a nation has had but one question on its mind. Why? Why is America embroiled in yet another internal struggle in a foreign country when it is already in hock with its own financial house? The debate between the doves and the hawks was running riot and the commander in chief was, once more, doing his best impersonation of an absentee landlord. The leadership vacuum was once more becoming the lead story.

So last night was Obama’s chance to clear the air and he did not disappoint. True he may not have answered every question to complete satisfaction. For instance, insisting as he did that in Libya “we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale,” bordered on hyperbole to say the least. True, Gaddafi has murdered thousands of his people, but if the President is looking for a prime example of violence on “a horrific scale,” I suggest he look a bit further south, say Sudan, where more than two million have been slaughtered, victims of the most egregious genocide since the days of Nazi Germany. And then there’s the violence in Yemen, some by our own hand.

But, on the whole, Obama managed to construct a narrative that sold well to his audience. He explained thoroughly the process that led to his decision to involve the U.S. in the no-fly zone, drew a distinction between Iraq and Libya, and made it clear that our involvement would be limited. Most importantly, though, he made the case for WHY we got involved, which was the sixty-four thousand dollar question plaguing him in the first place.

“To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and - more profoundly - our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.

“Moreover, America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya's borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful - yet fragile - transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the UN Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling its future credibility to uphold global peace and security. So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.”

Point taken. Simply put, the costs for doing nothing would’ve been far greater than what we are now faced with. As is usual with this President, he chose the path of pragmatism over either the impulsiveness of over aggression or the sheepishness of inaction. In other words, neither side of the extreme political spectrum probably heard anything they liked. I suspect that both the Left and the Right will continue to take Obama to task for not standing up for their world view, but that wasn’t the point of the speech. The point was to, finally, let the people in on the hows, the whys and the whens and to, hopefully, put to bed at least some of the doubts that many were forming about yet another of this President’s decisions.

On that mark, I think we can safely say, mission accomplished. Finally!

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