The White House decides it is time for the ‘Big Gun’
An Oval Office Address to the Nation (OOAN — to coin a new acronym) is a "big gun" presidential communication tool — perhaps only a special address to a joint session of Congress is bigger. All administrations keep the OOAN powder dry for an emergency, but few have husbanded it as carefully as has the ...
An Oval Office Address to the Nation (OOAN -- to coin a new acronym) is a "big gun" presidential communication tool -- perhaps only a special address to a joint session of Congress is bigger. All administrations keep the OOAN powder dry for an emergency, but few have husbanded it as carefully as has the Obama administration. This will be the first Obama OOAN, but he has previously conducted at least three addresses to a joint session of Congress, not counting the annual State of the Union address.
An Oval Office Address to the Nation (OOAN — to coin a new acronym) is a "big gun" presidential communication tool — perhaps only a special address to a joint session of Congress is bigger. All administrations keep the OOAN powder dry for an emergency, but few have husbanded it as carefully as has the Obama administration. This will be the first Obama OOAN, but he has previously conducted at least three addresses to a joint session of Congress, not counting the annual State of the Union address.
With the president’s polling numbers falling and domestic and international problems mounting, the time is fairly ripe for Obama to deliver his first OOAN. Fairly ripe, but not fully ripe, because the usual peg for an OOAN is missing: either a) A recent tragedy or b) A recent potentially pivotal development in an ongoing challenge or c) an announcement of an abrupt change of course. (Technically, this last one was not an OOAN because it came not from the Oval but from the Library, so it was a LAN.)
By contrast, President Obama will deliver his OOAN: a) on day 57 of a slow motion crisis, that b) has not just had an on-the-ground pivot (on the contrary, the most recent development, a lightning strike igniting a fire on a recovery vessel seems like an almost Biblical piling-on of trouble), and c) apparently without any dramatic change of course to announce.
I could be wrong about a dramatic policy announcement, of course, but I don’t think so because the pre-speech spinning by White House advisors has emphasized how President Obama, simply by virtue of giving his first address, can rhetorically deliver a pivot in the story. He will apparently use the address to reinforce some old talking points ("We have been on the job since Day One") that have not sold well and to refocus attention on old energy proposals that have been stuck in Congress. He will make news simply by giving the speech, but it seems unlikely that the news will be about new policies that will produce a pivot in the Gulf or on the shores.
All of this is domestic policy, of course, so why raise it in a blog devoted to foreign policy? Several reasons:
- The Gulf oil crisis is now a major issue– arguably the major issue – in our relations with our most important ally, Britain. Brits believe, not without some justification, that harsh rhetoric out of the White House has talked down BP’s stock, a real "pocketbook" problem for ordinary Brits whose pensions have invested in BP and suffered. I hope President Obama does not forget this crucial audience tonight.
- The oil spill has fed an Obama-as-feckless-Carter meme that has potentially serious implications for how other global leaders view him. At a minimum, they likely view him as distracted but more seriously they may view him as ineffective. The rest of the world — those who wish us well and those who wish us ill — are taking their measure of the man as he handles the first presidential crisis that unambiguously and completely began on his watch and so cannot simply be blamed on his predecessor. As president, he owns all of the problems, inherited and otherwise, but ones that began on his watch are especially telling to foreign leaders trying to figure out what Obama might do in other cases. This, too, is a vitally important global audience that Obama must reach.
- Energy policy is foreign policy, and vice-versa. Whatever the Obama administration accomplishes (or does not accomplish) on energy will have profound effects on national security policies relating to the Middle East, to China, to Russia, and beyond.
For our country’s sake, I hope tonight’s OOAN does represent a pivot point in this crisis. Obama has famously risen to the occasion, especially when the occasion is a "big speech." By rolling out their long-saved big gun, the White House has indicated they think this is the President’s biggest speech thus far, so he may once again deliver on his promise.
Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.
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