After missteps addressing Congressional concerns, President Obama has articulated clearly the goals, means and duration of the U.S. 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 Collegearticulated the Obama Doctrine on the use of U.S. military force when America’s humanitarian interests may be at stake but an imminent threat to U.S. 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 to respond?
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.