Libya And The White House: What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate
The public, and Congress, are skeptical of the mission in Libya, and the reason for that is because the President has failed to tell us exactly why we're there and what we'll be doing.
The first Gallup Poll of public reaction to President Obama’s policy shift on Libya yields some rather surprising results:
PRINCETON, NJ — A Gallup poll conducted Monday finds more Americans approving than disapproving of the military action against Libya by the United States and other countries.
The March 21 poll was conducted just days after the United States joined other countries in conducting airstrikes against Libya to enforce a United Nations no-fly zone. The U.N. passed a resolution calling for a no-fly zone in response to reports that Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi had attacked Libyan forces opposed to his government.
The 47% of Americans approving of the action against Libya is lower than what Gallup has found when asking about approval of other U.S. military campaigns in the past four decades.
Americans showed the highest level of support for the 2001 military action in Afghanistan that was a response to the 9/11 terror attacks. Americans also widely supported U.S. airstrikes against Iraq in 1993 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Support for the current involvement in Libya is also much lower than support for U.S. airstrikes against Libya in 1986 in response to the Libyan bombing of a German nightclub that killed two American servicemen.
Here’s how Operation Odyssey Dawn matches up against other American military actions over the past 25 years:
As the chart shows, the typical reaction of the public when a President sends American forces into action is to support the action by largely overwhelming numbers. The exceptions to that rule — Kosovo, Haiti, and Grenada — have either been engagements where the President in power clearly didn’t do a good job communicating what national interest was a stake (although I would submit that was next to impossible in the case of Kosovo and Haiti), or where the action was viewed skeptically because of other circumstances (Grenada, after all, occurred only a few days after the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut). Even in those cases, the President enjoyed majority support for his decision.
But not this time. American involvement in Libya has the least support of any military action in the last 28 years, which is somewhat surprising given the long history of animosity between the United States and Libya. In all honesty, given the history between the U.S. and Muammar Gaddafi, one would have thought that the American public would jump at any chance to get him, much as they did after Operation El Dorado Canyon in 1986.
There are several reasons one could ascribe to this, not the least of them being public burnout for military action after Iraq and Afghanistan and the possible realization that we cannot afford to be the world’s policeman at this very moment. Evidence of the former can be found in the polls that show that public support for the war in Afghanistan, which was tied to a direct attack on the American homeland, is at another all-time low. Evidence for the latter, loosely at least, can be found in the public’s new found (since 2009 at least) concern for Federal spending. However, I think the main reason for public doubt about this mission can be placed squarely at the door of the White House and the President of the United States.
Just a week ago, it was being reported that the United States was essentially abandoning any effort to implement a no-fly zone over Libya due to the fact that it was fairly clear that it wasn’t likely to do any good due to the numerous setbacks suffered by the Libyan rebels. While it had been the publicly stated policy of the United States that Gaddafi had to go for at least a month, it was also being made clear that the United States was not all that eager to do anything, and neither NATO nor the UN was giving any signal that they were either. As we learned after the fact, though, there was still a debate going on in the Obama Administration and, at some point late last Tuesday, President Obama authorized Susan Rice to seek a resolution authorizing the use of force from the Security Council. And here we are.
There’s just one problem. At no point prior to the passage of UNSCR 1973 did the Obama Administration make any effort to sell this mission to the public, or even to Congress. Instead, the President didn’t speak publicly about it until just before he departed for his South American trip on Friday afternoon, a time when many people aren’t paying attention to the news to begin with. Then, bizarrely, the President gets on Air Force One and heads off on a diplomatic mission that could have easily been rescheduled under the circumstances. There was no Oval Office Address explaining why we needed to do this, No press conference. Nothing. Is it really any surprise that the public, and Congress, are skeptical about what we’re doing in Libya when the President hasn’t taken the time to explain it adequately?
Of course, there may be a reason for that. This isn’t a strike against Gaddafi personally, it isn’t even an effort to destabilize his regime. It’s some bizarrely defined, open-ended, totally unclear “humanitarian” mission. As noted above, those kind of missions don’t generally garner a lot of public support to begin with. Either the Obama Administration has completely failed to explain to the people why we’re involved in yet another military adventure, or they’re being deliberately vague because they know the public won’t be enthusiastic about a conflict that doesn’t really implicate then national security interests of the United States. In either case, their failure to adequately communicate what they’re doing is shocking, and it’s the reason that the public is questioning their actions.