On March 19, 2011, President Obama ordered the U.S. Air force, in cooperation with Western partners and the Arab League to bomb targets in Libya. According to the President, the intervention was necessary in order to prevent Libyan dictator Muammar Quadaffi from massacring his own people. Quadaffi was attacking his own citizens through his Air force. The President says that the ultimate goal is Quadaffi’s removal.
Foreign policy analysts are trying to understand what they call the “Obama Doctrine.” In a sense, under what conditions will the President militarily intervene? Since the bombing began ten days ago, academics and members of the media have been drawing comparisons to the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq. What is clear is that President Obama and Former President Bush have different approaches to military intervention.
On the one hand, both Obama and Bush utilized military intervention in situations where the U.S. is not facing an imminent attack. Neither the 2003 Iraq invasion nor the current Libyan intervention were made necessary by an immediate military threat to the United States. Nevertheless, it appears that President Obama will only intervene under certain additional conditions which President Bush did not require. President Bush believed that unilateral action could be used to prevent possible threats in the future. Hence, the idea in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein’s potential weapons of mass destruction could eventually form a more imminent threat. Furthermore, Bush fervently believed in the expansion of democracy and that Iraq would be more stable under a democratic regime.
On the other hand, President Obama is less interested in unilateral action. President Obama appears to be more concerned that the U.S. only preemptively acts with international cooperation and for humanitarian purposes if there is no imminent threat to the U.S. In his speech Obama stated that: “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.” This statement summarizes the President’s reluctance to act, but he admits he will do so when values such as human rights are imminently at stake.