In his speech about Libya last night, President Obama articulated
his thinking about intervention quite clearly - and it's quite
After missteps addressing congressional concerns, President Obama
has articulated clearly the goals, means, and duration of the US
military action in Libya. Critics may say he did not address those
issues, but he did - and the answers are not acceptable.
The president's speech last night at the National Defense
University articulated the Obama Doctrine on the use of US military
force when America's humanitarian interests may be at stake but an
imminent threat to US security is not present.
The president made clear that the United States reserves the
right to unilaterally use military force to address direct threats
to "our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests."
Something less direct, but equally important to the president is at
stake in Libya; but the United States is constrained, under the
Obama Doctrine, to act in concert with other nations, on a more
limited basis, to achieve key objectives.
Prior to allied air strikes, troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi were
quite close to crushing the popular uprising in Libya and massacring
the opposition. By any reasonable reading of international human
rights law, Qaddafi is culpable for human rights crimes on a grand
scale, but why is it an American responsibility to respond?
Before World War I, international law was quite clear that
sovereigns were free to do whatever they chose to their citizens to
maintain order and control, as long as their actions did not affect
conditions in neighboring states.
Gradually, in the first half of the 20th century, this principle
came down. This began after World War I with the creation of
institutions like the International Labor Organization, whose core
principles compel member states to guarantee freedom of association
and by implication guarantee free speech.
The Holocaust and Nuremberg Trials ended the notion that national
governments are compelled by international law to turn a blind eye
when other national governments inflict atrocities. Over the past
seven decades, governments of all stripes have articulated an
elaborate web of international human rights law with limited
remedies. The latter includes international courts and
extraterritorial jurisdiction for domestic courts to bring to
justice deposed leaders who commit crimes against humanity.
However, the pressing question is when do governments have a
right and responsibility to intervene militarily against the actions
of other governments that violate international human rights law, as
is the case with Qaddafi.
Neither the United States nor an assembly of allies with
comparable resources can be expected to police the world. More
important, no national leader or legislature, under emerging
international law has the wisdom or right to assume that authority. …