President Barack Obama delivered a speech
last night at the National Defense University to publicly explain and defend his decision to go to war in Libya. In the process of the speech he publicly declared a foreign policy doctrine for his administration, one rooted in intervention for the sake of humanitarian goals, and more detailed in practice than his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech
. Though he emphasized that he would willingly intervene in other nations unilaterally if American interests were at stake, he obviously gravitated more towards the support of bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League for approval before intervening abroad. He also emphasized the necessity of using non-military means, such as sanctions and freezing of assets, before being justified to act-- though he did little in offering more criteria for when it is okay to move from embargoes to bombs.
"It is true that America cannot use our military wherever oppression occurs," offered Obama as he prepared to defend against those who criticize this new interventionist streak. However, he argues, Libya faced "the prospect of violence on a horrific scale" and thus America had a responsibility to act. "To brush aside...our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action." He seems to almost want to make a case for American exceptionalism, but this is quickly brushed aside with his constant appeals to the international community and international mandates. Much of the rest of the speech is spent talking about how historic the international reaction was and how quick and efficient his own actions were in handling the crisis.
The Obama Doctrine, as it is then, means that the United States has a moral imperative to intervene in any nation whenever the threat of humanitarian disaster is judged to be too severe in the eyes of the sitting American president, and usually only when there is firm international backing and the possibility of coalition-building to help support any intervention. However, under this doctrine, there is a limit to how much intervention there can be-- if at any time intervening in a country involves any sort of risks or responsibilities deemed to be too dangerous or unpopular, we would not engage in them. This means that intervening anywhere that requires the use of ground troops is likely out of the question. At this point in explaining his doctrine, the President insisted on taking a few more potshots at President Bush and the invasion of Iraq; a paraphrase-- "that invasion took too much blood, treasure, and time to deal with, but mine is faster and less-costly and therefore better."
Some have gone on to try and compare the Obama Doctrine with the Bush Doctrine. Indeed, the similarities between the two are enough that it brings out the tremendous and arrogant hypocrisy of those in the Obama Administration, including then-senators Obama and Biden, for their "principled" stands against the invasion of Iraq and any notion of attacking nuclear sites in Iran or North Korea. However, interventionist comparisons aside, the Obama Doctrine is not like the Bush Doctrine. President Bush consulted Congress and received their authorization before acting within the international coalitions he built (it is worth noting that Obama said last night that he "authorized" military action; Senator Paul has struck back
with a reminder about who has the power to authorize war- "You are not a king."). Despite massive intelligence flaws and accusations of falsifying information, the goals of President Bush's military interventions were still clearly stated and laid out before the American people: find and kill Osama bin Laden, remove the Taliban from power, find and kill Saddam Hussein, install democratic forms of government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether or not the goals were entirely realistic for America's capabilities or executed well is up for debate, but they were still there.
The speech that President Obama gave last night should have been given either before or immediately after he initiated the campaign in Libya. Even then, it should have been better-- last night, President Obama still did not address exactly what the endgame was, who these Libyan rebels are, and how much the United States is willing to put into Libya. Going forward we must work
"to minimize the commitment of the U.S. military, look after the best interests of Libya's civilian population, and limit the spread of terrorism and instability throughout the region." Hopefully the President and his administration can do a better job at explaining how this will be achieved.