Halperin’s Take: Six reasons why Obama’s Libya address was strong (even if it was a bit repetitive and didn’t address every future contingency):
1. He believed every word of it. Presidents always give better speeches when they help write their remarks and strike out any sentences that don’t match what is in their hearts. Go through Obama’s text, and you won’t find a single line that fails to reflect his views.
2. George W. Bush could have delivered every sentence. This doesn’t mean that Bush was an unambiguous success as a national security president–far from it. But Obama’s vision of how to engage the democracy moment in northern Africa and the Middle East is in the strong bipartisan tradition and current centrist positions of American foreign policy.
3. It explained how America must balance its interests, values, and military capacity. Obama exploded the false choice between those who say America should never intervene when the nation is not directly threatened and those who insist intervention in Libya leads logically to intervention in Syria, in further regional hotspots, and in areas of human oppression across the globe. With passion and meticulous detail, Obama justified why use of force was the right move for America in Libya, but not (for now) in other places.
4. He emphasized both unilateral action and coalition building. The right has accused Obama of being too beholden to international coalitions, and the nation is split between those who don’t want the US to ever subordinate its military to another country and those who think America shouldn’t act like an outlaw cowboy. In his speech, the president reaffirmed his work with partners around the world, but he also trumpeted the actions he has taken independently during the Libya crisis.
5. He looked the part. In delivery and tone, this was one of Obama’s best moments as commander-in-chief since he took office. He was calm yet forceful, verbally elegant yet conversational, and above all, tough.
6. He boxed in Republican detractors. GOPers who want to score political points on the president’s policy will have to work harder. Obama’s actions are still, of course, subject to criticism and analysis, but his case was so thorough and well reasoned he left little room for the kind of glib cheap shots that have passed for critique up until now.