E.J. Dionne Jr. is typical of many liberal pundits who serve up an extra dollop of incredulity that conservatives could be so critical of the president. He writes:
They’re criticizing him not for the decisions he’s made but for the ones he hasn’t, and the ones he delayed. They are attacking him not as a liberal ideologue but as a man in full flight from any ideological definition. If they once said his plans were too big, they are now asking if he has any plans at all.
E.J. has a number of things wrong. First, it is not simply regarding Libya that there is “criticism raining down from various points on the GOP spectrum.” Liberals are appalled as well that the president refuses to explain clearly our goals and consult sufficiently with Congress. The New York Times reports:
Mr. Obama, having returned from his trip to Latin America on Wednesday, met privately at the White House with his senior national security officials, but he made no public statements, even as reservations percolated in Congress and elsewhere about the conflict and its end game.
Asked about concerns raised the day before in a letter by the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Mr. Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said, “I think the president’s been very clear, and he has been asked and answered this question numerous times.” . . .
From the start, the administration insisted that it was acting to avert the imminent slaughter of civilians in Benghazi and other rebel-held cities, and that the goal of the military operations was clearly spelled out in the United Nations Security Council resolution.
Mr. Obama’s administration, however, has clearly tried to avoid the debate over a strategy beyond that by shifting the burden of enforcing the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing force on to France, Britain and other allies, including Arab nations like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which on Thursday said that it would contribute warplanes to the effort. In other words, the American exit strategy is not necessarily the coalition’s exit strategy.
“We didn’t want to get sucked into an operation with uncertainty at the end,” the senior administration official said. “In some ways, how it turns out is not on our shoulders.”
Conservatives and liberals are right to be stunned by his obtuseness and irresponsibility.
Second, conservative are hammering Obama, day in and day out, for his ideology. The right has argued that Obama’s apparent embarrassment over the assertion of U.S. power and his uber-dependence on multilateralism, both of which exemplify the left’s view of foreign policy, are at the root of the problem in Libya. They continue to pound him on excessive deference to Russia and to Big Labor, which opposes free-trade deals.
And on the domestic front, it is not merely Obama’s absence from budget debates and complete lack of leadership on entitlement reform that anger the right ( and annoy a great many Democrats as well); the right (as well as budget reformers, including his own debt commission appointees) is hitting him for his Herculean effort to maintain the bloated, instrusive government that he helped expand. In short, a president can be a rotten leader AND too liberal.
Contrary to E.J.’s suggestion, Obama is not the innocent victim of undeserved criticism. If liberals want to be helpful to this president, they’d be wise to give him some unvarnished advice. Dana Perino told me this afternoon, “I can imagine there might be a scenario in which you would have the president make a short, on-camera statement and then turn it over to State or the Defense Department for regular follow-up. I know they think they’ve done enough — but clearly everyone is yearning for more clarity.” That’s some exceptionally restrained advice. Surely liberals could say even that, right? It is time for the president’s media defense team to stop excuse-mongering for the president and start encouraging him to be the leader they thought he was.