Obama’s Libya Speech: Another Appeal to Emotion, Not Logic

President Obama’s speech tonight regarding the rationale for American involvement in Libya was inspiring and emotionally engaging. It was also completely unconvincing from a logical standpoint. The rationale for the conflict still makes little sense. In fact, I have heard far better arguments for intervention from folks who follow this blog.

“It’s true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs.  And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action.  But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right.”

The beauty of this statement is that it is a much more sophisticated way of saying, “You are either with me or against me.” I mean, who could possibly be against what is right? The problem, of course, is that President Obama never explains what that means.

I think intervening on behalf of a population that has provided aid and succor to al Qaeda is not in America’s interests. Nor is intervening in an Arab civil war. But the sheer arrogance of assuming that the administration’s actions are “on behalf of what’s right” is a nice sleight of hand that does not fool me for a second.

“To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and -– more profoundly -– our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.  Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries.  The United States of America is different.  And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

The cognitive dissonance of this statement is beautiful. It not only appeals to the concept of American exceptionalism, which President Obama has denied in the past, but also it appeals to America’s position as a leader, as a rationale for American involvement in the conflict. Yet, in the same speech, the President reminds Americans that “the United States will play a supporting role” in, not lead, the mission. This statement completely contradicts Obama’s “leadership” rationale and conveniently invokes American exceptionalism when the President has denied it existed in the past.

To be blunt, this speech frightened me. The leader of the free world, who controls the most powerful military in the history of mankind, cannot provide a simple and logical explanation for why the United States is dropping five-hundred pound bombs on people on one side of a civil war.

America deserves better, more experienced, less idealistic leadership.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Defense, Energy Security, International Security, Middle East, Policy, Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Obama’s Libya Speech: Another Appeal to Emotion, Not Logic

  1. Scott Erb says:

    Well, perhaps not unexpectedly, I had a very different reaction to the speech (I’ve also got a blog entry up on it). Gaddafi didn’t do damage to al qaeda, he called opposition to his regime al qaeda and used that to try to get the West to accept and reward his repression. Using the al qaeda boogey man is an old trick, just as South Africa used Communism to prevent the US and UK with withdrawing support from the apartheid regime.

    As for leadership, I understood it as the US playing a lead role in building a coalition and a plan for action, but having others share the burden of following through and not always having the US dominate interventions that are based on global interests (and not core US interests). That makes sense to me. Oh well, it’s always fun to disagree about Presidential speeches. My first reaction to that part of his speech was “wow, he’s proclaiming what’ll be called ‘the Obama doctrine.’ I’m curious to see if that’s what happens.

  2. “Gaddafi didn’t do damage to al qaeda, he called opposition to his regime al qaeda and used that to try to get the West to accept and reward his repression.”

    I disagree. He’d been repressing al Qaeda affiliates since 1996, when they tried to assassinate him. However, I agree that he also used it as a rationale to get the West to accept his repression as well.

    I read your blog post right after I posted mine. I actually appreciated how you pieced together the “Obama Doctrine.” Well done!

    I think the Obama Doctrine is a bad one, but I really appreciated your analysis of it.

    BTW, the fourth sentence of this post is a reference to you. 😉

  3. V. R. Kaine says:

    Just read it as well. I think you’re right, Scott, when you say this may be (or is?) the defining moment of the Obama Doctrine.

    As I mention over on your blog, I didn’t have high hopes for the speech and certainly not any real/truthful explanation as to why we’re there. As Sean says, it was an appeal to emotion and not logic – to me more CYA than anything so as not to come across too “Dubyah”-like in either rhetoric or action.

    I think we’re really there for simple reasons that no post-George W. Bush-era President can admit to publicly. I think instead of shooting for the hard left or hard right on his speech, he instead shot for the soft middle and understandably, consequently, has both sides angry at him. I think he put himself between a rock and a hard place with Egypt and with all of his campaign rhetoric hoping a situation like Libya wouldn’t come up for fear of proving Bush ultimately right in his course of action re: national security.

    Getting the U.N. to act in 30 days is impressive, but in this day and age too much can happen in 30 days. A decision can be fast without being “rushed”. With news of an uprising spreading that much quicker, regimes will act that much faster and harsher in quelling them. I don’t think Obama should be bragging about 30 days when I think these kinds of decisions should be made in much less a time. Perhaps, however, that’s the dreamer in me speaking and not the realist.

  4. Charles McCormack says:

    My take is that the Obama Administration backed itself into a corner with its premature calls for regime change in Libya and left itself with few options. Regarding your comment
    “America deserves better, more experienced, less idealistic leadership” you should bear in mind that your preferred leader, John McCain, has been lambasting Obama for not bombing Khaddafy’s forces earlier, even without any kind of coalition or UN backing.

    • “you should bear in mind that your preferred leader, John McCain, has been lambasting Obama for not bombing Khaddafy’s forces earlier, even without any kind of coalition or UN backing.”

      I agree that McCain is way off the reservation on this issue as he was with Kosovo.

      I think if he were President, he would have made the wrong call here as well.

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