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First thoughts: Necessary, realistic, and unsatisfactory


Summing up Obama’s speech in three words: necessary, realistic, and unsatisfactory… Obama’s answers (or non-answers) on the endgame, the cost, the Libyan opposition, and future humanitarian crises… The president, in New York today, sits down for an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams… Also in New York, he speaks at a dedication and attends two DNC events… Will Libya impact the budget debate?... Report: Obama will file for re-election less than three weeks for now… Is Barbour wooing Huckabee?... Santorum remains in New Hampshire, while Newt is in Wisconsin… And "Daily Rundown" interviews Stephen Hadley and Martin O’Malley, while "Andrea Mitchell Reports" has Susan Rice, Joe Lieberman, and Amy Klobuchar.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Necessary, realistic, and unsatisfactory: President Obama's speech on Libya last night was necessary, realistic, and unsatisfactory. NECESSARY because, nine days after the military campaign began there, he needed to update the American public on its status, aims, and future (arguably this should have happened at the start). REALISTIC because while he said U.S. intervention was needed to avert a humanitarian crisis, it had to be limited and multinational to avoid repeating the mistake of Iraq. And UNSATISFACTORY because it pleased very few, which in retrospect shouldn’t be too surprising given how complex and fluid the Middle East is right now. Despite all the backseat driving (Obama should have acted earlier! He shouldn't have acted at all! He should have gotten Congress' approval first!), the president will ultimately be judged by voters how he's navigating these difficult waters -- not by every paddle stroke, but rather by if the boat eventually gets to shore safely.

*** On the endgame: Yesterday, we said we were looking for Obama to answer four questions in his speech. Here are his responses (or lack thereof). Our first question: What's the end game for U.S. involvement? What happens if Khaddafy's forces and the rebels are locked in a months-long stalemate? Will the U.S. continue to intervene? The president’s answer: "Going forward, the lead in enforcing the no-fly zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Khaddafy’s remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role -- including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications."

*** On the cost: Our second question: How much has the mission cost, and how much will it cost? His answer: "Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation - to our military, and to American taxpayers - will be reduced significantly." Bottom line: He didn’t fully answer that question.

*** On the Libyan opposition: Our third question: If the rebels triumph, what kind of governing order would they bring to Libya? His answer: "[Today], Secretary Clinton will go to London, where she will meet with the Libyan opposition and consult with more than 30 nations. These discussions will focus on what kind of political effort is necessary to pressure Khaddafy, while also supporting a transition to the future that the Libyan people deserve -- because while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people." He avoided showing direct support for the opposition, even as U.S. actions clearly show the administration taking sides.

*** On future humanitarian crises: Our fourth question: What happens the next time there's a humanitarian crisis and the international community supports an intervention? What does that mean for Syria? What about Iran? His answer: "In this particular country - Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves." This, as we’ve said before, is the Obama Doctrine: The U.S. will take military action to avert a humanitarian crisis if its scope is limited and if it has the backing of the world community.

*** Start spreading the news… : President Obama’s answers to those questions -- or the lack thereof -- will be fodder when he sits down for an interview this afternoon in New York City with NBC’s Brian Williams, which will air on "Nightly News" tonight. Also in New York, Obama delivers remarks at the dedication of the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building at 4:45 pm ET. And then he hits two DNC events in the Big Apple. The first is a fundraiser at the Red Rooster Restaurant with roughly 50 supporters, a DNC official tells First Read. The cost is $30,800 a plate, and it will raise $1.5 million for the DNC. The second event is a "thank you" event with about 250 supporters at the Studio Museum. (Most of March has been about other Democratic committees getting the president's help to raise money, because once the calendar turns to April, the president's fundraising focus will be mostly trained on himself and 2012.)

*** The surprisingly partisan reaction: Here’s a final thought on Obama’s speech last night: The congressional reaction was surprisingly partisan, especially for a foreign policy speech. A typical Republican response: "When our men and women in uniform are sent into harm’s way, Americans and troops deserve a clear mission from our commander-in-chief, not a speech nine days late," said GOP Sen. John Cornyn. "President Obama failed to explain why he unilaterally took our nation to war without bothering to make the case to the U.S. Congress." Meanwhile, the Dem responses largely backed the speech, albeit unenthusiastically. "I support this lifesaving effort, which has been authorized by the United Nations and backed by our European allies and the Arab League," said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer. "I also applaud the service and courage of the American troops who are helping to carry it out. It is essential, however, that the president continue to inform and consult with Congress." The GOP reaction confirms the White House view that most of the criticism coming from Congress is political in nature, which may explain why they seem so uninterested in responding to it.

*** Will Libya impact the budget debate? A question worth pondering: Will the situation in Libya play a role in the current standoff over the budget? Could it end up strengthening the Democrats’ hand (if, say, Khaddafy is ousted in the next week or so)? Or could it help House Republicans (if Khaddafy remains in power and the violence in Libya escalates)? Or more likely, does the Libya situation overshadow the Beltway debate about the budget -- making it easier for back-channel negotiations between the White House and Speaker Boehner to take place?

*** Obama to launch re-election effort in the next couple of weeks? Turning to the emerging 2012 presidential race,

National Journal has some details how Obama will file for re-election. "President Obama is fewer than three weeks away from formally announcing his reelection campaign, and will make it public with an online video his aides will post on his new campaign website, Democratic sources familiar with the plans said. Obama’s team will try to keep the exact date and time a surprise, letting supporters know first by text message and e-mail. By that point, Obama would have opened his campaign account with the Federal Election Commission. But a major Democratic National Committee fundraiser is set for April 14 in Chicago, and Democratic donors are being told that it will coincide with the announcement. Obama will attend the event."

*** Barbour wooing Huck? On the GOP side,

Politico writes how Haley Barbour is wooing Mike Huckabee. "Representatives of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour have been trying to set up a time with Huckabee aides for the two Southern governors and longtime friends to meet... It’s a delicate topic for the two prospective candidates. Barbour wants to be respectful of Huckabee’s decision-making process and not be seen as pressuring the 2008 winner of the Iowa caucuses. And Huckabee, despite doing little of what he himself has said would be necessary to mount a campaign, wants to keep the possibility of running open and isn’t quite ready to play kingmaker. But for all their aides’ coyness, the two principals have been openly flirting with one another in recent weeks."

 *** On the trail: Rick Santorum remains in New Hampshire, where he attends multiple events. And Newt Gingrich screens the documentary "Nine Days that Changed the World" at Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI

*** Programming notes: MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" features interviews with Bush National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), and GOP Rep. Peter Roskam. Meanwhile, MSNBC’s "Andrea Mitchell Reports" interviews U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, as well as Sens. Joe Lieberman and Amy Klobuchar.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 10 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 136 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 224 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 314 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

 

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