With his speech tonight, President Obama placed himself in a great tradition of American presidents who have understood America’s special role in the world. He thoroughly rejected the so-called realist approach, extolled American exceptionalism, spoke of universal values and insisted that American power should be used, when appropriate, on behalf of those values. I was particularly pleased to see him place Libya in the context of the Arab Spring. This is the part of the equation that the self-described realists have missed. While in isolation acting to defend the people of Libya against Moammar Gaddafi might not seem imperative, it is in the broader context of the revolutionary moment in the Middle East that U.S. actions take on greater significance. Tonight the president began to place the United States on the right side of the unfolding history in the region.
The president also deserves credit for showing, once again, how bold and effective U.S. leadership can pave the way for multilateral efforts. He has been right to insist that others take their fair share of the burden, but he has also made clear that American leadership was essential, even indispensable.
This was a Kennedy-esque speech.