Video: For the first time, Obama says publicly that Qaddafi must go

He’s already said this semi-publicly, but now, almost two weeks after the fighting broke out and with most Americans in Libya safely out of harm’s way, I guess he feels it’s safe to be bold-ish. Few specifics are offered beyond humanitarian aid and flights to bring displaced Egyptians stranded in Tunisia back home — a smart act of goodwill as Egypt forges a new foreign policy. Otherwise, the plan seems to be for the west to stay out of it unless and until there’s a large-scale massacre in the offing (which British special forces may already be working to avert). That’s the safe play politically: 55 percent approve of his handling, or rather non-handling, of the Middle East uprisings and 48 percent approve of his non-handling of Libya specifically (versus just 26 percent who disapprove). Americans don’t want another Middle East adventure, I think, even if it means letting Qaddafi bomb people occasionally (or repeatedly). Only if the mustard gas comes out or some other Tiananmen-type slaughter unfolds will Obama be in trouble for not acting, with the fickle public turning on him instantly to demand an explanation for why he didn’t do something to stop it. That looks unlikely right now — Qaddafi’s oil money appears to be drying up, his mercenaries aren’t reclaiming territory from the rebels, and his big hope appears to rest on a peace plan submitted by, ahem, Hugo Chavez — but Tripoli is still in his grasp and being terrorized. The One’s taking a real gamble here by sitting back. Good luck to him on it, sincerely.

Two lingering questions. One: Obama says here that Qaddafi has “lost the legitimacy to lead.” Er, when did he have it? Two: Did Mariah Carey and Beyonce and other pop stars who sang for the Qaddafi boys really not understand who they were dealing with? Or did they understand just fine and hoped no one would care — which, until two weeks ago, basically no one did? Exit quotation: “Bring Bush! Make a no fly zone, bomb the planes.”

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