On March 28, 2011, President Obama spoke to the nation about his reasons for intervening in what he viewed as a humanitarian crisis in Libya. In his remarks, he outlined his criteria (aka doctrine) for U.S. intervention in foreign countries.
Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya
Air strikes against Libya in March 2011 were part of the first conflict undertaken by the U.S. during the Obama administration. The air strikes were executed by an international coalition initially led by the United States. President Obama authorized U.S. strikes with a brief order on March 19, 2011, which can be read at Text of President Obama's Declaration of Libya Military Action.
Code-named Operation Odyssey Dawn by the U.S., the operational lead was turned over the NATO on March 27, 2011. The purpose of the U.N.-sanctioned air strikes in various Libyan regions was to implement a no-fly zone to enable rebel leaders to more effectively battle Gaddafi forces.
The Obama Doctrine on Foreign Intervention
From Address to the Nation on Libya
March 28, 2011
"Now, despite the success of our efforts over the past week, I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya. Qaddafi has not yet stepped down from power, and until he does, Libya will remain dangerous. Moreover, even after Qaddafi does leave power, 40 years of tyranny has left Libya fractured and without strong civil institutions.
"The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task. And while the United States will do our part to help, it will be a task for the international community and –- more importantly –- a task for the Libyan people themselves.
America cannot use military wherever repression occurs
"In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya. On the one hand, some question why America should intervene at all -– even in limited ways –- in this distant land. They argue that there are many places in the world where innocent civilians face brutal violence at the hands of their government, and America should not be expected to police the world, particularly when we have so many pressing needs here at home.
"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.
In Libya, U.S. had unique ability to stop horrific violence
"In this particular country -– Libya -- at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.
"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...
America has important strategic interest in Libya
"Moreover, America has an important strategic interest in preventing Qaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him. A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful –- yet fragile -– transitions in Egypt and Tunisia.
"The democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship, as repressive leaders concluded that violence is the best strategy to cling to power. The writ of the United Nations Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling that institution’s future credibility to uphold global peace and security.
"So while I will never minimize the costs involved in military action, I am convinced that a failure to act in Libya would have carried a far greater price for America.