Despite the hands-off strategy, White House officials say Obama remains the rare American leader capable of connecting with the Arab world, as demonstrated by his 2009 speech in Cairo for a "new beginning" between the United States and Muslim nations.
But Obama has missed an opportunity by failing to swiftly endorse democratic movements in Egypt and elsewhere, critics say. And with the wave of protests extending further into the heart of the Islamic world, including Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia and Yemen, detractors say the president is failing to nudge the region toward democracy.
"I think the president is clearly uninterested in the United States playing a role in Libya or any part of the Arab spring," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "It sounds silly but I can imagine few other circumstances when the president, in the face of one of the most monumental transformations in history, would simply be content with sitting around and watching [cable news]."
Obama unexpectedly stopped by a press briefing Wednesday to read a statement on two American airmen killed and two others wounded in a Frankfurt, Germany, airport shooting. However, he refused to answer any questions, telling reporters he would speak to them Thursday while meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
"We are looking at different options," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, when asked about the prospects of a "no-fly" zone over Libya. "We haven't ruled anything out."
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said such a strategy would first require attacking Moammar Gadhafi's government, a prospect that Democrats and Republicans alike are against.
Carney has repeatedly defended the president during his public silence, saying that instead of sweeping public declarations, Obama has opted to lay the foundation for international action behind the scenes.
Administration officials told The Washington Examiner that Obama was mulling a speech about a broader set of American principles in the Middle East but would not talk about the timing or specifics of such a presidential address.
In addition to Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice have been the administration's mouthpieces on Libya. Rice went as far as to call Gadhafi "delusional."
Such tough talk has seemingly had little effect on the dictator, who vowed Wednesday to "fight to the last drop of Libyan blood."
For the first time, the United States backed the use of the International Criminal Court against Libya with the caveat to exempt Americans from investigation or prosecution by the court.
Supporters say the development reinforces Obama's quiet approach, pointing to a far more perilous transition of power in Libya than even Egypt in a region already brimming with instability.