“Intellectual and distant.” That was my immediate reaction to President Obama giving his Libya speech Monday. I kept telling my husband “Obama doesn’t know who his audience is. He’s speaking to the wrong people.”
What Obama’s Message Lacked
Simple, direct language…
A unifying logic….
No Straightforward Talk
When Obama described the strain of refugees flooding fragile new democracies leading to dictatorship, as repressive leaders embraced violence as the best strategy to cling to power, I had no idea what he was saying. Did he mean leadership in new democracies or in other repressive regimes that hadn’t been overturned? Why would refugees flooding Egypt influence, say, the leader of Syria in deciding whether to capitulate to popular sentiment or struggle to remain in power?
With simple, direct language, Obama should have stated reasons the U.S. took military action when it did, why it relinquished control to coalition forces, and why toppling Gadhafi is not an appropriate goal. His audience was the intellectually diverse American public, not a think tank.
Defensive Rather than Positive
Rather than drive home a compelling message with unifying logic, Obama’s speech seemed designed to quell criticism from all quarters. His appease-everyone approach resulted in a confused, defensive message.
* The USA took action to protect Libyans from a brutal dictator- but stopped while Gadhafi was still in power when the U.N. agreed to do the job.
* Taking action against Gadhafi was in our national interest – what national interest? We’re pretty much left to guess. And if it was such an important national interest, how is that due to cost and risk, we opted for a minimalist role?
* Instead of focusing exclusively on Libya, Obama talked of upheavals in multiple countries in the region as if that somehow justified military action against Libya.
The worst aspect of Obama’s Libya address to the American people was its lack of emotional connectivity. Obama-the-candidate would have moved listeners to tears, describing Gadhafi’s threat to go door-to-door and wrest civilians from their homes, hanging them in the streets. Had he spoken passionately, Americans would have felt the fear of the Libyan people and shared in their outrage. Instead, Americans heard an emotionally-detached speech, at odds with its humanitarian theme.
A speech half as long, simply-worded and designed to get out a positive, humanitarian message rather than deflect every possible criticism would have served the president well. The speech he gave did not.