I knew pretty early on during tonight’s speech that President Obama had rejoined—or joined—the historical American foreign policy mainstream. It was when he mentioned Charlotte (the city, not the spider):
At this point, the United States and the world faced a choice. Gaddafi declared that he would show “no mercy” to his own people. He compared them to rats, and threatened to go door to door to inflict punishment. In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day. Now, we saw regime forces on the outskirts of the city. We knew that if we waited one more day, Benghazi – a city nearly the size of Charlotte – could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.
When American presidents want to justify foreign interventions, and are worried the American people aren’t quite with them, they often reach for a strained analogy or comparison that will bring the situation abroad home to their fellow Americans watching on the tube. Obama’s awkward interjection explaining that Benghazi is “a city nearly the size of Charlotte” is a classic of the genre. As Obama said it, I recalled Reagan explaining Nicaragua was as near to Texas as Texas to Washington, D.C., or some such thing, and similar clunky and earnest attempts at homespun appeals by George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. I found this reassuring.
As I found the rest of the speech. The president was unapologetic, freedom-agenda-embracing, and didn’t shrink from defending the use of force or from appealing to American values and interests. Furthermore, the president seems to understand we have to win in Libya. I think we will.