Coordinate the Means but Not the Ends—Justifying U.S. and European Intervention in Libya

By Ben Veater-Fuchs
Thursday, 7 April 2011

On March 28th, President Obama addressed the American public to explain Operation Odyssey Dawn—the ongoing military campaign in Libya—and shed some light on what pundits have termed the “Obama Doctrine.” But the speech was at times ambiguous and confusing: calling for the ouster of Moammar Gaddafi but stating that this was not the objective of the mission, making it clear the United States was not acting unilaterally, but not clarifying the U.S. role in the coalition.

Representative of his usual political caution, the speech’s ambiguity reflects the mixed public sentiment on America’s proper role in Operation Odyssey Dawn.  A USA Today poll showed a divided public about whether the U.S. should take a leading role (10%), a major but not leading role (29%), a minor role (36%) or withdraw altogether (22%).

But one thing Obama did make clear was that he would “never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies, and our core interests.” This bold, clear language was surely aimed toward the more hawkish members of the American public.  But when he talked about protecting a city “nearly the size of Charlotte” from an unjust, cruel, and violent dictator, he was appealing to a wider audience.

The argument that war is sometimes necessary to obtain justice (an emerging theme in the “Obama Doctrine”) is something that 74% of Americans agree with according the GMF’s Transatlantic Trends survey. A majority Republicans (95%), Independents (79%) and Democrats (66%) feel the same way.  Being vague about the tactics and clear about the motivations makes good political sense given the public mood—even if it makes for questionable policy.

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