I caught part of this segment from Reliable Sources yesterday and watched the full segment last night, where Howard Kurtz asks what happened to the post-2003 media insistence that the Iraq war occurred because of a lack of questions being asked by journalists. That meme was always more self-preening than reality anyway; the run-up to the Iraq war took nine months and had considerable opposition in both Congress and the media. In contrast, the action against Libya seems to have been decided nearly overnight, after a few weeks of vacillation, and the media has been mostly disinterested until the UN finally took a vote on the crisis. What happened to the media’s “won’t get fooled again” pledge?
One of the panelists suggests “media fatigue,” the consequence of having to cover a series of uprisings in the region, with the crises in Japan on top of those. Kurtz dismisses this by noting that the media are not so fatigued that they’ve stopped broadcasting 24/7. The natural impulse to support a military action could account for some of the resulting lack of critical analysis; it makes sense to start looking operationally at a military action once it begins rather than chew on whether it should have begun at all. Given the lack of critical views in the much shorter run-up to Operation Odyssey Dawn, though, it appears the media got caught with its pants down.
John Boehner wonders why no one at the White House is talking to Congress about this operation, and for that matter the American people:
“The United States has a moral obligation to stand with those who seek freedom from oppression and self-government for their people. It’s unacceptable and outrageous for Qadhafi to attack his own people, and the violence must stop.
The President is the commander-in-chief, but the Administration has a responsibility to define for the American people, the Congress, and our troops what the mission in Libya is, better explain what America’s role is in achieving that mission, and make clear how it will be accomplished. Before any further military commitments are made, the Administration must do a better job of briefing members of Congress and communicating to the American people about our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved.”
Matt Lewis agrees, and thinks it’s good advice that Barack Obama should take:
Since 9-11, the American public has grown understandably “gun-shy” about any sort of limited military action. There is little faith that the U.S. can accomplish even a limited mission (such as a no-fly zone) without being sucked into a longer engagement. Part of the problem, I think, is that missions are not clearly defined for the American public, thus opening the door for “mission creep”.
President Obama has an opportunity to restore some faith in America’s ability to exert a positive influence in the world, but it will require effectively communicating why this was the right thing to do — and how it can be accomplished. … Oh yeah, and it will require actually accomplishing our goals — and then leaving. But it starts with winning the argument — something Obama has clearly not accomplished.
For a leader who often talks about “teachable moments,” this is his opportunity.
First, though, Obama has to actually lead, which involves coming home and talking with Americans rather than juggling soccer balls on the streets of Rio while he sends the military into a new theater of action. Kurtz’s panel mentions the strange public relations of the White House leading up to the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn, but practically no media has pointed out that Obama is likely the first President in the modern era to launch aggressive military action against another nation without addressing the nation from the Oval Office, or even sticking around Washington to lead during the opening phases of the operation.