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President Barack Obama, with moderator Jorge Ramos, left, addresses a town hall meeting hosted by Hispanic network Univision at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC, March 28. 2011. Ramos is a news anchor at Univision.
Dr. Peter Morici: 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 at the War College 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 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 Moammar Gadhafi were quite close to
crushing the popular uprising in Libya and massacring the opposition. By any
reasonable reading of international human rights law, Gadhafi is culpable for
human rights crimes on a grand scale, but why is it an American responsibility
Prior to 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 Twentieth 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’s eye when other national
governments inflict atrocities. Over the last 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 Gadhafi?
Neither the United States nor an assembly of allies with comparable resources
can be expected to police the world. More importantly, no national leader or
legislature, under emerging international law has the wisdom or right to assume
In President Obama’s mind, that wisdom and divine responsibility are logged in
the UN Security Council and the collective mind of the Atlantic Alliance
supplemented by consent from neighboring governments in the region of the
atrocity. In his speech, the President referenced the consent and resources of
both NATO and several Arab states.
In the mind of President Obama, the United States does not have the moral or
legal authority to lead—even as it provides the bulk and most essential military
resources. The command structure must be within NATO; however, running a
military action by international committee hardly fosters quick decision making
and is hardly the best formula for success.
Why, with a GDP and population larger than the United States, the EU cannot
carry the heaviest load is a question a succession of presidents have not been
willing to press. Under the Obama Doctrine, the Europeans get to command US
troops and spend US money to accomplish goals more central to their collective
security—look at the map, Libya is a lot closer to France than Maine.
The President, recognizing the limits of intervention, has divided the task into
two goals—avoiding massacre and permitting the popular uprising the opportunity
to prevail—and removing Gadhafi—apparently because international authority in
the form of UN resolutions only permits the former. To depose the tyrant and end
atrocities, the United States and its allies must rely on an arms embargo,
freezing Libya’s foreign assets and similar economic measures—those are methods
with questionable records of success.
Hence, our commitment in Libya is open ended—we stay as long as the threat of
massacre is present and the allies want American troops—and getting rid of
Gadhafi—a worthy and stated American goal—must rely on other, less effective
means. Without a permission slip from the UN, even covert actions to destabilize
Gadhafi, though more palatable than air attacks, are illegal.
Should the conflict end in stalemate, the United States will be stuck, as it was
enforcing a no fly zone over Iraq after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991,
indefinitely enforcing another no fly zone over Libya.
It appears under the Obama Doctrine the United States is committed to putting
troops in harm’s way and bearing the heaviest financial costs as long as the
coalition of NATO and selected Arab states want US troops. And the very nature
of running a war by committee reduces the likelihood of success and extends the
likely duration of the US commitment and exacerbates the risks to US troops.
Simply, by compelling an open ended commitment under international control and
limited tools to resolve the conflict, the Obama Doctrine and the Libyan
campaign are not good foreign policy.
A frank talk on Libya with Giorgio Napolitano, President of Italy:
Professor, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland,