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.
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…