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John Michael Grant responds to Obama’s statement on Libya

My dear friend– of over 40 years– John Michael Grant offers the following response to Obama’s statement on Libya.

I think Qadaffi and those like him are too dangerous not to finish this relentlessly and decisively, ending only with Qadaffi’s unconditional surrender or death.  (You may wish to review this news article, Obama Sees Success in Libya but U.S. Considers More Firepower.)

As for whether or not I think Obama’s remarks in the link that you cited were sufficient to persuade me:

1.)  I don’t think his remarks went far enough to spell out the imperative to attack.
Qaddafi may have deserved attacking now and long ago, but I think Obama should have included more justification.  For example, Obama indicated that Qadaffi threatened a bloodbath against civilians.  (But Qadaffi’s response is that he’s putting down an insurrection, not targeting Libya-loving civilians.)

…..So, what about other hot spots where there really hasn’t been much of a threatening dialogue, just bullets flying to put down protests ?

….Especially in light of the news account that Obama wanted to increase aid to Libya’s military just a month or so ago, I think that Obama needs to talk about the imperative of shooting first.

2.)  When debating whether it’s a moral responsibility to intervene, Obama should not cite the international community like he did:

“But I firmly believe that when innocent people are being brutalized; when someone like Qaddafi threatens a bloodbath that could destabilize an entire region; and when the international community is prepared to come together to save many thousands of lives—then it’s in our national interest to act.  And it’s our responsibility.  This is one of those times.”

Suppose the international community did not come together —and for the record they seem to be contributing far, far less resources and effort than the U.S. is— would we have had any less a moral obligation to act ?

My view is that our moral obligation is the same if we have the resources to respond; morality and obligation aren’t necessarily contingent on what happens to be popular or convenient at a given moment.  Obviously, there’s always going to be a potential conflict between what the “moral” course of conduct should be, versus the pragmatic course of conduct we choose.  Based on my view of the world, I’m accepting enough of human limitations to candidly say that:  “Ideally, we would do X, but we’re going to do Y for the following reasons.”  And I think that is what this President or any President would be up against in trying to garner support for another war in that place at this time.

But:
__if he could sell the “imperative,”
__if he could convince Americans that today was the first day of a new era of sensible and non-hypocritical foreign policy choices,
I’d buy it, at least for the moment, because of the idealistic streak that runs through me.

3.  So I think his speech should have been stronger, more convincing.

But could it have been ?

I think so, but that would involve stating that the U.S. is turning a new page in foreign policy, and from this point forward, we were not going to do X, Y, Z because it was hypocritical or wrong or simply not in our interests to sustain repressive regimes.  But that would take a lot of strength and character, because there’s probably so much in the way of mechanized traditions built into our foreign policy apparatus that any President with just a couple of years experience really doesn’t know how to change it, even if he wants to.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.