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Obama's Fragile Public Support for Libya Operation

Author: James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair
March 29, 2011


Editor's Note: Dr. James Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (where he blogs), co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy" and a former director for global issues and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.

“What you see depends upon what you are looking for.”

That old political saying almost certainly held true for President Obama's address to the nation Monday night on Libya.

Viewers who support Operation Odyssey Dawn no doubt saw reason for reassurance. Viewers skeptical of the wisdom of intervening in yet another country probably saw few of their concerns addressed.

Obama's goal with the speech was to solidify, if not increase, support for Operation Odyssey Dawn.

The early polls are troubling; support for his policy is under 50 percent. A Pew poll released on Monday showed that more Americans (50 percent) doubt that the United States and its allies have a clear goal with their “kinetic military operations” against Libya than believe they do.

Just as bad for the White House, six in ten Americans think we are headed for a lengthy entanglement in Libya, while just one in three think that it will end quickly.

Obama' speech contained no surprises. He made the same arguments that he did during his three press conferences in Latin America and in his radio address on Saturday.

In time-honored presidential fashion, Obama framed Operation Odyssey Dawn as a decision driven by America's values and interests. Americans have a stake in the future of the Middle East he argued, and while “some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities” overseas “the United States is different.”

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