Obama's best paragraph in one of his better speeches illustrates the man we know him to be:
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.
It's something of a pity that he implies that he is moved by images rather than the slaughter itself, but that's what makes him a B+ on his best day rather than an A. Overall however, he is toeing a superbly crafted and deft political line. He had no overarching theme, but he hit every little point that he had to, and threw in a couple other goodies to boot. This is the speech that he needed to make, and I'm glad he did. He was right that over the past week all of the conversation was drawing false conclusion from dumb partisan arguments, and nobody looked quite as idiotic as Ron Paul.
Of course Obama isn't the crunchiest cracker in the geopolitical barrel. I worry that the President will be funding rebels ad infinitum like another pseudo-cowboy President we enjoyed in the 80s. There's no question that if you're not in it for regime change that little rebel groups in little countries can work guerilla wars for years. Kadafi will not be bled to death. Somebody is going to have to go commando and snatch that rascal out of his palace. Central America is our model.
Nevertheless I am perfectly willing to give Obama exactly as much credit as Reagan for fighting the good fight in this, the new tone. Putting the national interest front and center is a bit more honest than the assumptions Reagan made about dominoes in our hemisphere, but relying on NATO, the UN and coalition politics is significantly squishier and non-results oriented. Still you can't beat Libya, smack dab between Egypt and Tunisia, not that anybody but France cares about Tunisia. Obama was dead right to stop the slaughter. Good zinger on Bosnia too. Take that Hillary!
Obama still needs a new speechwriter. All of his paragraphs hold together like a Pollock and what he really needs is some Rothko, but that what we get from this man who splits every difference and negotiates every interval. Practical ain't always beautiful. Obama will never have the sort of gut instinct that appeals to me, but he's getting better than new wine and perhaps aging into something admirable. We'll watch. We'll see.
In the meantime, this is the moment to see if Obama's European appeal is all it was cracked up to be. If and when Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkel and others give him high fives than that will be all to the good. The actual operation of NATO forces, now that's another story. But on the political side, Obama may be poised for a big bump. Let's see how long this coalition stands and if it really accomplishes everything it ought to.