Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Did Obama convince you on Libya?

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • President Barack Obama's decision to intervene in Libya had only middling support in polls
  • David Gergen says a key aim of Obama's speech was to build support for his decision
  • He says Obama made a good case for action but was vague on potential outcomes
  • Gergen: Obama laid out a much more cautious, collaborative approach than past presidents

Editor's note: David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four U.S. presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. For another view, read "Now the tricky part" and for Fareed Zakaria's analysis, read here.

Cambridge, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Now that the "commentariat" has had its say about President Barack Obama's speech Monday night on Libya, chewing over every phrase, the decisive American verdict about his address rests not in television studios but in homes across the country.

And so, if I may, let me ask: What did you think?

Three questions stand out:

1. Do you believe that the president made a compelling case for military intervention by the U.S. and its coalition partners? Before the speech, a Pew survey found that a bare 47% thought the president had made the right decision in intervening, compared with 36% who disagreed. That was the lowest level of support in years for a president sending U.S. troops into harm's way.

After the speech, there was a near-universal view among commentators that the president had indeed made a convincing argument on behalf of intervention. I was among those who believed so. But what about you, the people who count?

2. Do you believe that the president was clear about his goals and what should come next in Libya? Before the speech, Pew showed that a strong majority -- 50% to 39% -- thought that Obama has not been clear about U.S. goals there. Afterward, the pundits were split on whether he answered the big question of where this goes.

Obama explains Libya action
Witness: 'Utter carnage' in Misrata
Who really controls Misrata?
Sen. Durbin: No-fly zone is working

I was among those who believe that he left enormous vagueness (e.g., the stated mission has been to defend citizens from Moammar Gadhafi's forces, but with a rebel force now on the offensive, should NATO give assistance? What do we do if there is a stalemate and Gadhafi clings to power? What happens, on the other hand, if there is an internal coup and Gadhafi is overthrown; will the U.S. be heavily engaged in nation building?). I did not think the president clearly answered those questions. But more important than what commentators thought -- what did you think?

3. Did the president enunciate a new Obama doctrine about the uses of U.S. military power that you find appealing? As CNN's Wolf Blitzer said after the speech, we clearly heard Monday night the beginnings of an Obama doctrine -- the clearest enunciation he has provided so far of his views on the use of force.

Some thought he was opening the door to the possible use of military force in other Middle Eastern nations that are shooting protesters (e.g., Syria, Bahrain, Yemen); I thought just the opposite, that the president was closing the door unless there was horrific violence and a number of other exceptional circumstances.

To me, the speech laid out a vision of U.S. leadership that was much more limited, cautious and collaborative than we have had in recent presidents -- certainly a far cry from the muscularity of President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address that said we would pay any price, meet any burden in the defense of liberty.

A half century ago, Americans rallied to JFK's call, but today, when Americans are weary of war and feeling broke, perhaps people will find his more cautious approach more appealing. Do you? How did you interpret his "doctrine" and what do you think of it?

Give the president credit: His speech has advanced an important dialogue not only about Libya but about American leadership in the world. What did you think?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.
Featured Deal |