The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
NEW YORK (
) -- After missteps addressing Congressional concerns, President Obama has articulated clearly the goals, means and duration of the U.S. military action in Libya. Critics may say he did not address those issues, but he did, and the answers are not acceptable.
The president's speech at the War College articulated the Obama Doctrine on the use of U.S. military force when America's humanitarian interests may be at stake but an imminent threat to U.S. security is not present.
The president made clear the U.S. reserves the right to unilaterally use military force to address direct threats to "our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests." Something less direct, but equally important to the President is at stake in Libya, but the U.S. is constrained under the Obama Doctrine to act in concert with other nations, on a more limited basis, to achieve key objectives.
Before the allied air strikes, troops loyal to Moammar Gadhafi were quite close to crushing the popular uprising in Libya and massacring the opposition. By any reasonable reading of international human rights law, Gadhafi is culpable for human rights crimes on a grand scale, but why is it an American responsibility to respond?
Prior to World War I, international law was quite clear that sovereigns were free to do whatever they chose to their citizens to maintain order and control, as long as their actions did not affect conditions in neighboring states. Gradually, in the first half of the 20th century, this principle came down. This began after World War I with the creation of institutions like the International Labor Organization, whose core principles compel member states to guarantee freedom of association and by implication guarantee free speech.
The Holocaust and Nuremberg Trials ended the notion that national governments are compelled by international law to turn a blind's eye when other national governments inflict atrocities. Over the last seven decades, governments of all stripes have articulated an elaborate web of international human rights law with limited remedies. The latter includes international courts and extraterritorial jurisdiction for domestic courts to bring to justice deposed leaders who commit crimes against humanity.
However, the pressing question is when do governments have a right and responsibility to intervene militarily against the actions of other governments that violate international human rights law, as is the case with Gadhafi?
Neither the U.S. nor an assembly of allies with comparable resources can be expected to police the world. More importantly, no national leader or legislature, under emerging international law has the wisdom or right to assume that authority.
In President Obama's mind, that wisdom and divine responsibility are logged in the U.N. Security Council and the collective mind of the Atlantic Alliance, supplemented by consent from neighboring governments in the region of the atrocity. In his speech, the President referenced the consent and resources of both NATO and several Arab states.
President Obama thinks the U.S. does not have the moral or legal authority to lead -- even as it provides the bulk of military resources and the most essential ones. The command structure must be within NATO; however, running a military action by international committee hardly fosters quick decision making and is hardly the best formula for success.
Why, with a GDP and population larger than the U.S., the EU cannot carry the heaviest load is a question a succession of presidents have not been willing to press. Under the Obama Doctrine, the Europeans get to command U.S. troops and spend U.S. money to accomplish goals more central to their collective security. Look at the map -- Libya is a lot closer to France than Maine.
The president, recognizing the limits of intervention, has divided the task into two goals -- avoiding massacre and permitting the popular uprising the opportunity to prevail, and removing Gadhafi -- apparently because international authority in the form of U.N. resolutions only permits the former. To depose the tyrant and end atrocities, the United States and its allies must rely on an arms embargo, freezing Libya's foreign assets and similar economic measures. Those are methods with questionable records of success.
Hence, our commitment in Libya is open ended: We stay as long as the threat of massacre is present and the allies want American troops. Getting rid of Gadhafi -- a worthy and stated American goal -- must rely on other, less effective means. Without a permission slip from the United Nations, even covert actions to destabilize Gadhafi, though more palatable than air attacks, are illegal.
Should the conflict end in stalemate, the U.S. will be stuck indefinitely enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, just as did over Irag after the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.
It appears that under the Obama Doctrine the U.S. is committed to putting troops in harm's way and bearing the heaviest financial costs as long as the coalition of NATO and selected Arab states want U.S. troops. And the very nature of running a war by committee reduces the likelihood of success and extends the likely duration of the U.S commitment and exacerbates the risks to U.S. troops.
Simply, by compelling an open-ended commitment under international control with limited tools to resolve the conflict, the Obama Doctrine and the Libyan campaign are not good foreign policy.
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Professor Peter Morici, of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, is a recognized expert on economic policy and international economics. Prior to joining the university, he served as director of the Office of Economics at the U.S. International Trade Commission. He is the author of 18 books and monographs and has published widely in leading public policy and business journals, including the Harvard Business Review and Foreign Policy. Morici has lectured and offered executive programs at more than 100 institutions, including Columbia University, the Harvard Business School and Oxford University. His views are frequently featured on CNN, CBS, BBC, FOX, ABC, CNBC, NPR, NPB and national broadcast networks around the world.