President Obama and the use of force: Libya and Iraq (yes), Syria (ehm)

When the other day I listened to US President Obama’s statement authorizing military strikes in Iraq I could not help thinking about the US president’s remarks about the precedent US military intervention in Libya in 2011. The two presidential speeches, in fact, present striking similarities. Let’s have a look at them.

1) The proximate cause for intervention: a city and its innocent inhabitants are in danger.

Iraq: In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces. To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.

Libya:  […] speaking of the city of Benghazi — a city of roughly 700,000 people — [Qaddafi] threatened, and I quote: “We will have no mercy and no pity” — no mercy on his own citizens.

2)The villan.

Iraq: ISIL has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis.  And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect.  Countless Iraqis have been displaced.  And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women. 

Libya: For decades, [Qaddafi] has demonstrated a willingness to use brute force through his sponsorship of terrorism against the American people as well as others, and through the killings that he has carried out within his own borders.

3)The United States has a responsibility to act.

Iraq: When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.  We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.

Libya: […] the United States did not seek this outcome.  Our decisions have been driven by Qaddafi’s refusal to respect the rights of his people, and the potential for mass murder of innocent civilians […] the United States of America will not stand idly by in the face of actions that undermine global peace and security.

4)The importance of US leadership.

Iraq: […] our leadership is necessary to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our grandchildren will depend upon. 

Libya: American leadership is essential […] We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians.

5)On the decision to use the US military.

Iraq: […] there is no decision that I take more seriously than the use of military force […] As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq […] American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.

Libya: […] there is no decision I face as your Commander in Chief that I consider as carefully as the decision to ask our men and women to use military force […] The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya.

The two presidential speeches show an incredible rhetorical consistency in the themes and ideas used by President Obama to justify the use of US military power both in 2011 Libya and 2014 Iraq. The same consistency is perhaps lacking in the practical use of such a power. Off the top of my head is the three year-long crisis in Syria that has not resulted in a similar US policy…



  1. User

    Part 1. Eugenio, thanks for the quick comparative analysis, there are clear similarities between the speeches. It would have been most interesting to read your comparison of executive comments, if you had taken your research one bridge farther. In addition to Iraq and Libya, if you decide to build out your matrix to include Syria, please re-post it here.

    As posted on the “Web Agora Blog” there is some convincing commonality. Each of the three use-cases relating to the “justification for the use of force” are in fact three separate examples with distinctively differing political objectives. One example could be driven by overt policy. A second, to shore up an existing policy and the third example could be a covert policy directed to take WMD’s permanently out of play.

    The opposition in each case stems from some now common themes. In each of the three cases you’ve brought forth; Baghdad, Damascus, or Tripoli they’ve been propped up under not one, but both arms. As the commonalty in religion is the first crutch, discounted military armaments supplied from Moscow is the second. The same supply of arms and clandestine assistance is today taking place in Crimea, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv.

    One could easily compile a much longer list of places if including the dysfunctional centers of power such as Algiers, Amman, Beijing, Beirut, Cairo, Caracas, Hanoi, Havana, Naypyidaw, Pyongyang, Sana, and Tehran. If not continuously preyed upon by Islam, without doubt then Communism in the other countries is keeping the natives in check. There is no doubt each case both religion or politics is kept in place as they’re re-supplied armaments by the Kremlin.

    Unlike the warm embrace of the seemingly utopian Greek Agora found at you link, let us return our focus onto what has taken place in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Each of these countries functions primarily with a self-serving shell of a political sham. A better description might be, brutalization by the hands of the few.

    With a second hand, aside from the negative and pervasive Russian influence, the other looming similarity is the people in these counties are being strangled beyond political means. They are being strangled by Islam. This monotheist religion with its “Five Pillars” acts as if it were more like “eight tentacles.” It suffocates the disenfranchised masses from individual creativity, cultural expression, and stunts societal growth.


  2. User

    Part 2. Although their faces are the same, they have different names. By religious decree their faces are being directed at the dirt five times a day. From sun up, until sun down the religious occult is continuously emblazoned over all other thoughts. They are not-free born citizens, they do not have the right to gather and exchange civic announcements, free-thought is regualted, freedom of expression is policed, the open discussion of political opinion risks of death, and simple trade, is kept simple by corruptive design.

    The systemic indoctrination of children continuing throughout their lifetimes ensures only privilege reaps the bulk of rewards for the few. It delivers only plight amongst its larger audience. As to not cause any cognitive dissonance, I’ll stop here. Why is this unsolicited and biased diatribe relevant to similarities found in one man’s cleverly crafted speeches?

    The biggest lessons learned over the past 100 years, will carry forward and shape the next 1,000 years. Today’s observation is the optimal number of people that can be supported by the planet is between 1.5 to 2 billion people. Historically the optimal population lasted from 1900 to 1927, or about 100 years ago. Today the sad truth is there are no less than 5.2 billion too many people.

    As 7.2 billion people are spread amongst 200 countries, the number of armed interventions to ensure the regional competitive advantage of the United States will rise. No matter how the 5 similarities in the cursory analysis are spun at a later date, be prepared to hear similar clever speeches from each and every successive administration.
    1) The proximate cause for intervention: a city and its innocent inhabitants are in danger.
    2) There is a villain.
    3) The United States has a responsibility to act.
    4) The importance of US [global] leadership requires action is taken.
    5) The best solution is the military option.


  3. arnest

    Obama’s using military strike in Iraq to save Christian minority & Yezidi people is based on humanatarian ground. At both the place US staffs were in focus & Obama wan to save them.I believe it was timely help to Miorities in Iraq.


    • eugeniolilli

      Dear Arnest, thanks for your comment.
      I am not arguing that US current intervention in Iraq, or the 2011 in Libya, were not based on humanitarian ground.
      What I suggest in my post is that the example of US non-intervention in Syria (after three years of bloody civil war) probably shows that humanitarian reasons are not enough for intervening.
      Unless, we accept the idea that the lives of Syrian civilians are less worth than those of Iraqis or Libyans.


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