Joshua E. Keating: A Wilsonian Move by the White House in Libya





Joshua E. Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced today that the United States is will recognize Libya's Transitional National Council as the country's "legitimate governing authority". This comes as something of a surprise, as the normal U.S. policy is to recognize whichever government is in de facto power of a country. Despite recent rebel gains, that's probably still Muammar al-Qaddafi, entrenched behind his forces in Tripoli. This stance goes back as far as the French Revolution, when the U.S. recognized the country's new Republican government while Europe's monarchies still regarded it as illegitimate. 

(This is not the same thing as having diplomatic relations with a country. The U.S. may not have an embassy in Iran but doesn't question that the Islamic Republic does, in fact, rule the country.)

But there have certainly been exceptions to the rule. An instructive case is the Woodrow Wilson administration's refusal to extend recognition to Mexican dictator Vicotriano Huerta, who took power in a 1913 coup...



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