The pattern for recent wars fought by the US – Afghanistan, Iraq – has been that in their initial phases they attract instant Congressional and popular support. The difficult questions are deferred to later. In the case of Libya, President Obama’s decisions have from the inception faced a barrage of public questions relating to constitutionality, definition of mission, command and control, cost, exit strategy, and so on.
Many of these come from his potential presidential challengers in 2012 and have a predictable quality to them. But there is also palpable unease among prominent Democrats. Skepticism in Congress is growing and popular support is thin. In the House of Representatives, it is likely that that the Republican majority will hold hearings that will highlight the views of those opposed to the Libyan action. Behind the scenes, his military advisers are deeply divided on how far to push Obama’s repeated statements that the endgame must involve Qaddafi’s ouster. A key question under debate is whether to arm the rebels. In private conversations with us, senior State Department and Pentagon officials worry that, even if Libya turns out better than expected, it distract attention from more important challenges in the Middle East represented by Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
A White House official commented privately to us: “The President knows that he has taken a risk. It remains to be seen whether the reward will be worth the risk.”
Obama is now engaged on a blizzard of Congressional briefings and will deliver a national address on March 28th. Our assessment is that Obama needs a breakthrough on the battlefield or Gaddafi’s departure to resolve these doubts. If that happens, he would transform his standing. Short of that, his presidency has entered another perilous phase.
On the domestic front, he faces further turmoil on the federal budget. Inter-party negotiations are running into new disagreements on the size of cuts to the budget. April 8th looms as the date for a possible government ‘shutdown.’ Beyond that, a further vote will be necessary in late April or early May to raise the federal debt ceiling. This will set the stage for more acrimonious debate. If Libya does not reach an early resolution, Obama’s authority will weaken further. This raises yet again the question of the efficacy of American governance – one of our themes for 2011.
Source – Swoop: http://theswoop.net