By James Dohnert
On Tuesday March 29th, President Obama addressed the critics of his decision to commit American forces in Libya during a nationally televised speech at the National Defense University. Sticking to a message of moral justification and global partnership, he laid out what some commentators are declaring is effectively his doctrine for foreign policy.
It is a policy that echoes an American obligation to the world while separating itself from the concepts of presidents that came before. "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,” said the president in response to critics who felt the Libyan problem is not ours to bear.
Much like former President Bill Clinton did when he acted to stop the mass killings in the Balkans, Obama used American military might to prevent the death of innocents abroad. And by doing so, he reiterated the ideal of an American responsibility to the global community, one that assists in aiding humanity as a whole and attempts to offer a helping hand in places like the politically distraught nation of Libya.
Aware of the criticism that he wasn’t doing enough and should attempt to oust Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the president said, “Broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.”
Instead he called for assistance to Libyan rebels already on the ground and reiterated the need for support from allies across the globe. “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,” the president said.
The president’s call for cooperation and coalitions is where he differs from his predecessor President George W. Bush. During a speech to The Commonwealth Club in 2002, Bush stated, “Across the world, governments have heard this message: You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.”
President Obama did not echo the ex-president's mentality of us-against-them in 2011. Stating that “the burden of action should not be America's alone," the president made it clear that his concept of a better world requires cooperation.
By justifying his actions to critics on the Left and the Right, he maintains that his presidency is both different and similar to those that came before them. Setting himself apart while reminding the world of leaders from the past Obama continues to shape a legacy that will undoubtedly be remembered for a long time.
You can read former President Bush’s entire 2002 speech online; also, to voice your opinion on the Libya situation, be sure to join the Commonwealth Club's Middle East discussion group on April the 25th.