The Obama Doctrine

President Barack Obama delivers his address on Libya at the National Defense University in Washington.

Now that President Barack Obama has laid out his reasons for having the United States join NATO allies and others to use military force in Libya, Americans have a clearer idea of when and how this president may act militarily.

But they may also have some significant questions and reservations about the Obama Doctrine.

The reasons for taking action in Libya, as outlined by the president in his speech Tuesday night, are certainly not without merit. Most compelling for us was that, in moving to curb Moammar Gadhafi’s military attacks against his own people, it sends a clear message of support for emerging democratic movements throughout the Middle East.

Not long ago, few people could have envisioned the ouster of long-standing authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, or campaigns moving in the same direction in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere. But they are occurring, with energy.

If coalition forces had not imposed a no-fly zone in Libya and had not halted some of Gadhafi’s ground forces, the rebels would likely have been destroyed and countless civilians murdered or brutalized, Obama said. Worse, the message to other tyrants in the region would be to crack down on any dissidents — quickly and brutally — and don’t worry about interference from abroad.

That’s not a message anyone wants to send as more brave souls in that part of the world risk their lives in support of freedom.

Obama also said the Libyan action was undertaken because the United States and its allies had the power to prevent more atrocities, there was strong international support (including from Arab countries), and the rebels in Libya asked for our assistance.

Even so, countless people still have questions about the Obama Doctrine, which Democratic writer Mickey Kaus has dubbed “humanitarian imperialism.” Here are a few of those questions.

✔ Will we undertake similar missions in other countries? Syrian leaders are reorganizing their government in an effort to defuse opposition, but people there are still angry at the single-party system and it could turn into a Libya-like situation. In the Ivory Coast, where more than 500 people have already been killed in a fight over who runs the government, the demand for humanitarian action may be more pressing. And what happens if democratic insurgents try to take on the Islamic regime in Iran? Or the monarchy of Saudi Arabia?

✔ Obama made it clear he isn’t going to send troops into Libya to help overthrow Gadhafi. But what if a stalemate develops? How long will we support the rebels with a no-fly zone and military aid? And what if Gadhafi’s forces begin to defeat the rebels, despite our current assistance? When will we determine the Libyan mission has been successful?

✔ When will Obama seek approval from Congress for this action? Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have all been critical of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, but President George W. Bush did obtain a congressional resolution of support before taking that action. So did President Bill Clinton before intervening in Bosnia.

There are some sound reasons for taking action as we have in Libya, but President Obama should have made his case earlier to both Congress and the American people. And he needs to be more specific about how we will know it’s time to end the mission.


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