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Has the tongue turned? Obama explains his Libya attacks -- and his national security approval sinks


Is the Real Good Talker losing his famous talking touch, just as the Democrat opens a 19-month campaign for $1 billion and reelection?

Then-wannabe senator Barack Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. The dynamic duo of John Kerry and John Edwards lost the election anyway. But Obama emerged on the political scene as an articulate spokesman for the party's left side.

After his 2004 upset win over the political powerhouse of substitute Republican candidate Alan Keyes, the new senator from Illinois built on his speaking reputation to create an almost immediate presidential candidacy.

During the bitter 2008 Democratic primaries, party rival Hillary Clinton notoriously noted that Republican John McCain had a lifetime of public service on his resume and Obama had but an anti-Iraq war speech he gave in 2002. Obviously, Obama defeated both of them anyway.

Since moving into the White House he has often flown several hours on Air Force One with his ubiquitous Teleprompter to employ likely his best political skill, delivering speeches of varying duration before enthusiastic audiences. As adversities have accumulated -- the economy, unemployment, deficits, his controversial healthcare legislation, lack of a fiscal 2011 federal budget and now three wars -- that once formidable strength now seems possibly neutralized.

Obama will surely give hundreds more speeches before Nov. 6, 2012, when voters decide if he becomes only the third Democratic president in nearly a century to win a second election. Or if he joins Jimmy Carter in the ranks of one-termers.

But Obama's most recent major speech, the one on Libya last week, may provide an intriguing ....

Russians protest president Obama's military action in Libya 4-1-11

... window into a shifting scenario that could affect the political fate of a confident politician who has yet to meet a problem he couldn't out-talk.

Last week, after strangely waiting 10 days after ordering U.S. forces into a third Middle Eastern combat arena, Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech to explain to many puzzled people how helping to dump a distant dictator in power for four decades was suddenly in America's urgent interests.

The president gave it before a friendly audience at Washington's National Defense University. And, as usual, The Ticket published the complete text right here.

Obama's main claim was that by blowing up Kadafi vehicles and personnel, U.S. and allied planes and missiles were preventing the bloodshed of anti-Kadafi civilians. And although the action was not authorized by Congress, the president said he'd told them about the assault and it had United Nations approval, and the U.S. wouldn't be involved long in the lead.

Obama presented himself and the nation as "naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges." He added:

Some question why America should intervene at all -- even in limited ways -- in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing concerns here at home.

It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country -- Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale.Obama speaks on Libya 3-28-11

Initial reactions noted Obama never really did explain how intervening in Libya's humanitarian crisis was in the national interest, as opposed to an admirable humanitarian interest, while not protecting threatened civilians in Syria, Darfur, North Korea, Iran and elsewhere was OK.

Now comes some polling data on Americans' collective reactions: In short, not good for the good talker. His speech didn't muster support. In fact, his approval on national security has fallen since he spoke.

A year ago, 45% of American voters rated the president positively on national security and 32% poorly.

After he attacked Libya but before he explained it, while he toured South America with his family, 43% of American voters gave President Obama positive marks for his handling of national security issues. Only about a third (34%) rated him poorly in that area.

However, after Obama explained himself and his decision, the numbers basically reversed: The good or excellent rating fell to 37%, while the poor grade jumped to 40%.

Obama's positive rating on national security is now the lowest since he took office.

Twenty-seven percent of American voters say Libya is important to our national interest. Nearly twice as many (48%) are now convinced that it isn't.

Other than that, Obama's tardy speech on Libya worked like a charm.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Goran Tomasevic / Reuters (Allied bomb blasts pro-Kadafi forces in Libya); Dmitry Kostyukov / AFP / Getty Images (Russians protest Obama's military attack on Libya); Charles Dharapak / Associated Press (Obama speaks on Libya, March 28).

Comments () | Archives (5)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I don't understand the need to want everything to fail. People on the internet on both sides need to understand that the vast majority ofpeople are good hearted and in real life work together to solve problems. Isn't it in every one's best interest to listen to the other side? That one party that at times helpsthe workerforceto the detriment of business, and one that does the opposite, that maybe compromise is in everyone's best interest?

Very insightful is refreshing to see such "blasphemy" of the Anointed One in the LA Times for a change.

Bravo, Andrew!

It takes a lot of guts to challenge the current media orthodoxy.

The President's actions in Libya are clearly not in America's vital interests, violate nearly every principle he accused his predecessor of violating in Iraq, and have no clear mandate from Congress.

Additionally, President Obama spent less than a month even attempting to "market" the campaign to the American people vs. the six months of intense effort George W. Bush spent making his case for an invasion of Iraq. Plus, overwhelming majorities supported Bush's actions. Obama did not even bother to encourage a vote.

Yet, where is the outrage? Where is Code Pink and

The hyprocrisy of this administration is simply galling as is the President's inexperience in conducting a coherent foreign policy.

Hope is not a method.

I am not a Republican and vote mostly for Democrats, so this is not a partisan attack. During the primaries, I had "hope" that Obama might turn out OK. After he "adjusted" his positions during summer '08, including his genuflection before AIPAC, his betrayal in the Senate on warrantless wiretaps, his belligerent talk on foreign/military/national security policy and his support for TARP just before election, I knew I could not be complicit by voting for him. My suspicions were quickly confirmed when he appointed Rahm Emmanuel, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner. It was "abandon all 'hope' ye who enter here."

I'd vote for a principled, honest Republican like Ron Paul before I'd vote for any national Democrat other than Dennis Kucinich. It really doesn't matter much whether we rely on "personal responsibility" or government assistance. With our industrial base destroyed and the middle class drowning, there's no way Americans can pay for needed health care, education, infrastructure and now even police and fire protection when we're spending over a $trillion per year on the military.

We need to get out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya immediately. We need to stop destabilizing places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with air and drone attacks. We need to stop arming every tinpot dictator the world over like Shahkashvili, and stop enabling Israel. This is not "isolationism" if we continue to aid in disaster situations like tsunamis, earthquakes and famine, and continue to trade freely with countries that respect human rights and the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Currently, people the world over except in Israel see the US as the greatest threat to peace and security. That needs to change. Leading by example is not "isolationism."

The obama wars should never have happen, without the approval of CONGRESS. o is acting like a dictator. His opinion is the only one that matters, like MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY. If you told Congress after the fact DOES NOT COUNT, After you lose in 2012, how would you feel if the Republicans President would go to a new war without the approval of Congress. We do not NEED or WANT A PRESIDENT that does not follow the CONSTITUTION, AND does not care if us Americans like his actions. Life is a coin, you can spend it any way you wish, but you can spend it only once, as a president you already spend it, the result has been a failure.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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