March 29th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President #799: 'Selling the Libyan war'

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/03/28/t1larg.obama-libya-close-up.t1larg.jpg width=300 height=169]Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama has not explained to the public why we are fighting in Libya. We’ll see if they buy it.

Dear Mr. President,

A friend of mine was involved in a kind of political-debate-cum-sideshow years ago. He would take the liberal viewpoint, another man would take the conservative position, and they would slug it out to the endless amusement of cheering audiences. They performed at college campuses, in front of civic groups, and probably at cattle auctions for all I know.

One night, as they were leaving an event, for all the raucous hilarity they’d provoked, the other guy turned and said, "So do you think we changed anyone’s mind?" And as my friend later described it, he was struck by the realization that the answer was almost certainly "no."

I mention it, because as I watched you make the case for the war in Libya, I kept asking myself, "Is this enough to change anyone’s mind?" And I suspect that is really the question you need to ask yourself.

After all, I don’t suppose you would make such a speech unless you thought that the American people were feeling a little uncertain about what we are doing there and why. In addition, I would guess you wanted to encourage your friends and quiet your critics on Capitol Hill. And beyond that? Well, it’s not beyond the pale to think you’d want your foreign allies to see you bolstering political support at home for the rockets red glare in Libya.

So while everyone else slices and dices your words to decide whether you made your case, what you must ask yourself is that same question: Did I change anyone’s mind? Is anyone who was against this effort, now for it?

It is a tough, but simple test of whether your achieved your goal or just wasted the evening. And the answer, more than any comment by any pundit, will tell you whether your speech worked or not.

Give me a call if you want to do the pluses and minuses. I’m good at those.



Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    If we use the test of whether a speech will change someone's mind then there will be a lot fewer speeches. Obama should have made this speech to the American public before American forces engaged the enemy and he should have talked with Congress first as well to try to get some buy-in there. And he should have made the speech days earlier – Obama always is slow on the draw about making the speeches and he would take less flak if he would do the speech sooner. He detracts from his credibility by stalling.

    Changing a mind – rarely done – once someone decides their position (even if its based on a fallacy) no number of facts or reasoning will generally budge them from their opinion.

    March 29, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  2. Karen

    I agreed with his decision before he made the speech but after the speech his reasoning and points to going into Libya was stronger. He is faced with difficult choices and his reasons as the president of the united states are valid.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  3. William Miller

    I think it is refreshing the president recognizes and is willing to express to the world that those principles we believe in are not just for Americans. That people have a responsibility to do those things that are right not because it has some tangible benefit to us, but simply because it is right. Although it is arguable doing right has real tangible benefits. There have been people questioning whether or not we should support the opposition forces because we are not sure what their motivation is. These are the people of Libya they are not Al Qaeda. They are no more likely to be taken over by Al Qaeda than we would be by the Tea Party if the roles were reversed. Al Qaeda will loose legitimacy in a democracy. Who would they have them terrorize themselves? I believe the President has our interest in mind when he shows the world that we stand for something and not just to get something. I'm sure it is hard to get a consensus in a coalition on how Gadhafi should go. I'm also sure that is subject to change. I think Gadhafi will dictate that. Good job Mr. President!

    March 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  4. richard kerwin

    Dear Mr. President

    When are to going to go after the oil speculators. They continue to hurt the little guy with higher gas prices. We need some relief from higher prices.
    thank you

    March 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm |