- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
That’s what I thought as I watched President Obama’s speech on Libya. It reminded me that about three years ago, when I read a transcript of an interview Fareed Zakaria did about foreign affairs with Barack Obama, then running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The message I took away from that exchange was that if this guy is elected, he will have little time for dictators, despots and the like.
What we saw in the NDU speech was a logical defense of what the president has ordered the military to do and an exposition of what the limits of the action will be. The cost of inaction threatened to be greater than the cost of action, but now we have done our part. Next role for the U.S. military is best supporting actor, providing electronic jammers, combat search and rescue, logistics and intelligence. That was all necessary, and pretty much as expected.
But I was most struck by the last few minutes of the speech, when Obama sought to put the Libyan intervention in the context of the regional Arab uprising. He firmly embraced the forces of change, saying that history is on their side, not on the side of the oppressors. In doing so he deftly evoked two moments in our own history-first, explicitly, the American Revolution, and second, more slyly, abolitionism, with a reference to "the North Star," which happened to be the name of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper. If you think that was unintentional, read this.