What Questions Did Obama Answer on Libya?

In reactions to the president's speech no one seems to know how this will end

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President Barack Obama finally gave the nation some face time on the topic of Libya Monday night, and while many seem satisfied with his explanation of where he was coming from — the so-called "Obama doctrine" — his insight on what happens next seemed far less clear. The president had to walk a fine line in justifying military force in Libya while not necessarily promising US involvement in other, similarly situated countries in the region and globe. To most, he made the case, but the big question remains: How does this end? Here's a sampling of some editorial reaction from overnight.

Most of the big papers agreed in their editorial pages that getting involved in Libya was a good move. The Washington Post said, "Mr. Obama was right to act, and he deserves the credit that he claimed," while the New York Times called US involvement "the right, albeit belated decision." Even the conservative Wall Street Journal said the speech was "a substantial case for Libya intervention." All three papers asked the question of how this thing ends, and none had an answer.

David Frum, however, pulled no punches in his disgusted reaction. He called the speech "preposterous" and the president a hypocrite. His summary of military accomplishments — "We saved one side from losing, prevented another side from winning" — points to a lack of political accomplishments: "he has exposed us to the resentment and revenge of one side, while failing to earn the gratitude of the other." Frum concludes that the United States should not have invested itself the way it did: "having committed American power to the war, he committed America inescapably to the outcome. If that outcome is a divided, war-torn country, President Obama will not escape responsibility because he only used American airpower."

But even as Frum railed on the president for "rearguing" the Iraq war "to justify cutting short the commitment to Libya," Salon's Alex Pareene characterized that as a "carefully [drawn] distinction between this mission and the invasion of Iraq." He pointed out that "In Libya, the opposition actively wanted us to intervene, the dictator was actively attacking his people, and the international community had all agreed that something should be done." But Pareene, like most other pundits, acknowledged that the endgame has yet to be revealed: "If whatever this mission turns out to be is accomplished quickly and the end result is good for us, the people of America will be fine with it."

And if the lack of a clear end to this action didn't bother Pareene, it was the main concern of Wired's Spencer Ackerman: "So what happens if Gadhafi doesn’t simply go? What happens if the rebels can’t overrun him, as the Pentagon assesses? What happens in the event of a stalemate? How does the U.S. not escalate if Gadhafi hangs on? The fact that there’s no clarity after this speech is striking."

Aside from the endgame question, many people's big concern was the fact that Obama took military action without approval from Congress. John Nichols addressed that in The Nation, taking the president to task for his "I" statements ("I authorized military action). "The problem is that presidents are not supposed to start wars, especially wars of whim that are offensive rather than defensive in nature," Nichols wrote. "That was the complaint against George W. Bush when he failed to obtain a declaration of war before ordering the invasion of Iraq, that is the ongoing complaint against Obama for maintaining the undeclared wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.