Whatever President Obama says tonight, the time and place of his speech have already conveyed a distinct message. Most obvious is the appearance before an audience at the National Defense University. The location will carry none of the urgency and intimacy of a speech directly to the public from the Oval office.
Plus, the President has waited until command of the Libya operation has been turned over to NATO, so he won't even be talking about a strictly American military mission, despite the heavy role the U.S. military plays within NATO.
All this fits both the President's worldview and his political needs. Mr. Obama believes that America's foreign interventions have so damaged the country's image that the stamp of U.S. leadership on this one would be a stain. That explains his willingness to allow the situation to deteriorate until a coalition could be formed and the U.N.'s blessing could be obtained.
That has not stopped critics on the right and left from complaining, but so far the gripes have come mostly from the fringes or from those who habitually complain when a President uses force without Congressional permission.
The odds are now that if the President asked for Congressional authorization, he would get it. But then he might have to keep talking about the mission after tonight. He doesn't seem to want to do that.