Tonight, President Obama not only addressed the US role in Libya tonight but he redefined US foreign policy, and kicked George Bush’s cowboy diplomacy out the door. Obama said, “In such cases, we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.”
Obama framed Libya in terms of the humanitarian mission, “In the face of the world’s condemnation, Gaddafi chose to escalate his attacks, launching a military campaign against the Libyan people. Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested, sexually assaulted, and killed. Supplies of food and fuel were choked off. The water for hundreds of thousands of people in Misratah was shut off. Cities and towns were shelled, mosques destroyed, and apartment buildings reduced to rubble. Military jets and helicopter gunships were unleashed upon people who had no means to defend themselves against assault from the air.”
He continued, “Confronted by this brutal repression and a looming humanitarian crisis, I ordered warships into the Mediterranean. European allies declared their willingness to commit resources to stop the killing. The Libyan opposition, and the Arab League, appealed to the world to save lives in Libya. At my direction, America led an effort with our allies at the United Nations Security Council to pass an historic Resolution that authorized a No Fly Zone to stop the regime’s attacks from the air, and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people.”
The President made it clear that this no Iraq invasion, “In this effort, the United States has not acted alone. Instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition. This includes our closest allies – nations like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey – all of whom have fought by our side for decades. And it includes Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who have chosen to meet their responsibility to defend the Libyan people.”
Obama said, “To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners. To lend some perspective on how rapidly this military and diplomatic response came together, when people were being brutalized in Bosnia in the 1990s, it took the international community more than a year to intervene with air power to protect civilians.”
Just in case anyone didn’t get the point that Libya is not Iraq, Obama drove the point home again, “Moreover, we have accomplished these objectives consistent with the pledge that I made to the American people at the outset of our military operations. I said that America’s role would be limited; that we would not put ground troops into Libya; that we would focus our unique capabilities on the front end of the operation, and that we would transfer responsibility to our allies and partners. Tonight, we are fulfilling that pledge.”
The President announced that NATO is taking over, “Our most effective alliance, NATO, has taken command of the enforcement of the arms embargo and No Fly Zone. Last night, NATO decided to take on the additional responsibility of protecting Libyan civilians. This transfer from the United States to NATO will take place on Wednesday. Going forward, the lead in enforcing the No Fly Zone and protecting civilians on the ground will transition to our allies and partners, and I am fully confident that our coalition will keep the pressure on Gaddafi’s remaining forces. In that effort, the United States will play a supporting role – including intelligence, logistical support, search and rescue assistance, and capabilities to jam regime communications. Because of this transition to a broader, NATO-based coalition, the risk and cost of this operation – to our military, and to American taxpayers – will be reduced significantly.”
Later Obama tried to assure Americans that they aren’t in for another long Middle Eastern action, “Despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya. Gaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Gaddafi does leave power, forty years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions. The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community, and – more importantly – a task for the Libyan people themselves.”
Obama made the point that he refused to wait for Gadhaffi to massacre his own people. He said that America is better than that, “It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.”
The President said that he would not turn a blind eye to mass slaughter, “To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – 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.”
Obama said there will be no repeat of Iraq in Libya, “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq. Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”
Obama argued that issues of common global security are also an American concern, “There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and common security – responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us, and they are problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help.”
The President openly rejected the go it alone mentality of Bush and crew, “In such cases, we should not be afraid to act – but the burden of action should not be America’s alone. As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs; and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.”
Obama argued that the United States must be the friend of revolution that is spreading throughout the Middle East and Africa, “Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership.”
The President concluded by reminding the American people of their history of supporting freedom, “But let us also remember that for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe. We have done so because we know that our own future is safer and brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity. Tonight, let us give thanks for the Americans who are serving through these trying times, and the coalition that is carrying our effort forward; and let us look to the future with confidence and hope not only for our own country, but for all those yearning for freedom around the world. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.”
This speech could have been titled Obama Dismantles the Bush Doctrine, because his entire reasoning was a total rejection of the principles and rhetoric that Bush used to justify his invasion of Iraq. This was a policy defining speech by President Obama. In one half hour he laid out his view of the responsibilities and powers of the United States.
Obama rejected all of the old Bush favorites. He didn’t fear monger about a threat to America. He rejected going it alone. He rejected an invasion with ground troops to ensure regime change, and he implemented a clear plan with clear goals. The difference between Obama and Bush was night and day.
Obama’s speech marked a return to the US playing their traditional post WWII role of coalition builder. This president wants to take this country back in it’s traditional direction. If Bush was the cowboy president Obama is the freedom president. Not since the end of the Cold War has a president so openly embraced the promotion of the concept of freedom.
For the neo-cons freedom was a sales pitch around which they wrapped their justification for preemptive war. For them, freedom had a dual definition. Freedom not only meant liberating the oppressed from oppression, but it also carried the added definition of freedom for the Executive Branch of our government to exercise unlimited power in unilateral action as they saw fit. The Bush administration didn’t see themselves as bound by law. The President was the law.
Barack Obama’s actions as president have not only removed the stain of the Bush years from our collective conscious, but Obama has restored America to its rightful place as the world’s champion of freedom.
It has been a long road back, but the ugly face has of American tyranny crafted by George W. Bush has been replaced by the friendly gaze of freedom.
The President with the funny name is living up to the dreams of our founders, and of this we all should be proud.