Michael Crowley: Obama Doctrine Is Clear, But the Mission Isn't





[Michael Crowley is a senior correspondent for TIME.]

Barack Obama's speech on Libya last night was a curious beast--both ambitious and cautious at once. The president surprised Washington by articulating a big idea about American power. But he may have disappointed Americans by dancing around the challenge that remains in Libya.

Obama was clear enough, to be sure, about why he chose to intervene in Libya. With his army outside Benghazi, Obama said, Moammar Gaddafi was prepared to commit "a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world." That would not just have been a moral abomination, the president argued, but a strategic calamity that might send droves of refugees into Egypt and Tunisia, straining their fragile transitions; it would also set an example to other tyrants that "that violence is the best strategy to cling to power." Moreover, Obama said that to allow Gaddafi to defy the United Nations would be "crippling [to] its future credibility."

This was a fulsome explanation, though there's also plenty to critique: The United Nations only took substantive action in Libya at Washington's strong urging; Obama reversed the causality here. It's not self-evident how a wave of refugees would spoil the political transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. And the U.S. is currently propping up another Middle Eastern ruler who has violently repressed protests.

But so what?..


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