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FOREIGN POLICY

(April 07, 2011) (Arianie Keeney) – On President Obama’s Humanitarian Policy: A Limited Military Intervention in Libya 

When the United States decides to send its military troops out on a humanitarian mission into conflict zones in the Middle East, critics are quick to label us as occupiers and presume that the President is defining his war doctrine. But who could blame them when our past record on military intervention in the Invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War is subpar. After all we did declare a unilateral preemptive war without successfully proving the existence of the purported existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the absence of the backing of a legitimate peace keeping organization. 

In the case of the 2011 uprising in Libya, it is obvious that with President Obama’s outright delay in committing U.S. military intervention to stop the brutality of Muammar Qaddafi’s government forces against Libyan civilians, the President is conveying that he is not least interested in adopting a war doctrine. Especially not at a time when America’s credibility as a friendly diplomatic nation has been tarnished by its past failures at foreign policy, with an enormous added responsibility to redeem our integrity to boot and at bearing the burden of a very outstretched military. 

President Obama’s commitment in Libya is one that will come to be known as a foreign policy strategy based on the humanitarian aspect of peacekeeping and conflict resolution. As Americans who went to the polls back in 2008, we have to bear in mind that the President has a political history of being a community organizer and a civil rights attorney. As such, understanding President Obama’s political roots and motivations would be the most illuminating factor in order to gauge the direction of the United States’ foreign policy strategy under his governance.

During his Presidential Speech on Libya, President Obama explained the United States’ position on intervention:

But the core principle that has to be upheld here is that when the entire international community almost unanimously says that there’s a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words; that we have to take some sort of action.

 It is also imperative to understand that the President’s use of the United States military is the means to this humanitarian effort. If he is seen as an enabler, it would only be based on the distinctive fact that his end goal is to protect civilian lives from further attacks of Muammar Qaddafi’s government forces. Throughout the ordeal it is clear that President Obama hasn’t digressed from that stance.

As I said, there are different phases to the campaign.  The initial campaign, we took a larger role because we’ve got some unique capabilities.  Our ability to take out, for example, Qaddafi’s air defense systems is much more significant than some of our other partners.  What that does then is it creates the space; it shapes the environment in which a no-fly zone can actually be effective.

So what makes it right for the United States to intervene? It is simply because the President has identified that there is indeed a role for the United States, its allies and the United Nations to enforce a peacekeeping mission.

It is naive for one to think that peacekeeping activities could be carried out without any means of military involvement or that the military solely exists for the purpose of combat operations or the use of force during wartime. In autocratic regimes where violent state actors and illegitimate non-state actors exist, freedom and peace will naturally come at a price. Contemporary conflict resolution studies have shown that the challenges in peacekeeping are two-fold. The lack of an effective conflict resolution strategy through an efficient peacekeeping body as well as the debate on legitimacy have been the main criticisms amongst academics. The Brahimi Report of 2000, also known as the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations came out as a result of these criticisms. This study alone offers ample justification as to why President Obama should tread with caution with any kind of interventionist decision-making.   

I think it’s also important to note that the way that the U.S. took leadership and managed this process ensures international legitimacy and ensures that our partners, members of the international coalition are bearing the burden of following through on the mission, as well.  Because, as you know, in the past there have been times where the United States acted unilaterally or did not have full international support, and as a consequence typically it was the United States military that ended up bearing the entire burden.

It would be unwise on our part if there is no effort made in anticipating how the situation would play out in Libya against what the United States could currently risk, taking into consideration the overall scenario of revolutionary crackdowns and protests happening throughout other parts of the Middle East. The United States military is currently heavily involved in the post-reconstruction of Afghanistan and with the ongoing killings of United Nations workers in Afghanistan induced by the Quran burning incident in Florida, General Petraeus has said that the United States military is already facing severe challenges in carrying out its peace enforcement efforts there. In addition, as much as the United States aspire to once again be the global leader and build our nation’s credibility, we also need to account for our current deployed military resources, as well as the financial burden incurred by American taxpayers to sustain this commitment abroad.

But, obviously, our military is already very stretched and carries large burdens all around the world.  And whenever possible for us to be able to get international cooperation — not just in terms of words, but also in terms of planes and pilots and resources — that’s something that we should actively seek and embrace, because it relieves the burden on our military and it relieves the burden on U.S. taxpayers to fulfill what is an international mission and not simply a U.S. mission.

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