Libyan Uprising Fleshes Out the Underpinnings of the "Obama Doctrine"
By Nick Bruce '13
In his March 28 Libya address, President Obama harped on two themes: American values and American interests. Values, within the context of people aspiring to govern themselves, boils down to the United States lending a helping hand to those who fight for their freedom. Obama refuses “to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action” as dictators turn against their own people to maintain power. The President also spoke of interests, and it appears that the president’s evolving foreign policy runs deeper than humanitarianism. His decision to intervene only in Libya and forgo the opportunity to prevent violence in the Ivory Coast — where clashes between the forces of democratically-elected president Alassane Ouattara and those of the illegitimate Laurent Gbagbo (who lost his reelection bid but refuses to step down), have left thousands dead — indicates a policy of selective humanitarianism: the United States will assist the oppressed in their search for responsive government in some cases and not others. Moreover, it may be the national interests of the United States, rather than the appearance of mass graves in the Ivory Coast, that dictates Obama’s foreign policy. Such selective intervention in Libya, coupled with a verified CIA ground presence working towards an unclear objective on a nonexistent timeline suggests, but does not prove, that the United States intervened in Libya for reasons beyond preventing genocide and the refugee flow that would have ensued. Grounded so far in a policy of humanitarianism, multilateralism and keeping U.S. troops off foreign soil, the remainder of the Obama Doctrine has yet to be written.

Describing the second component of his foreign policy, Obama stated that our national interests “must always be our North Star — the ability of our people to reach their potential, to make wise choices with our resources, to enlarge the prosperity that serves as a wellspring of our power.” The possibility of genocide in Benghazi offered Obama the humanitarian impetus to intervene, as well as a cloak of political impenetrability and democratic righteousness under which he could tactfully promote ulterior national interests. With Libyan violence leading to an increase in oil prices that threatens our economic recovery, and the opportunity to favorably influence the post-Qaddafi power vacuum — a power vacuum in an OPEC nation and the world’s 12th largest exporter of oil — Obama stumbled upon a confluence of events, circumstances and opportunities that he deemed too valuable to not act upon.

The economy, jobs in particular, will decide the 2012 presidential election. Republican candidates will argue that Obama has failed to stimulate the economy and lower the employment rate. Oil prices indicate an economy’s prosperity. Due to unsafe operating conditions brought about by Libyan violence, oil firms operating in Libya have slowed and ceased production. As a result, the Crude Bench has risen over the past few weeks from $100 per barrel $108.70 per barrel. This increase brings oil prices to a two-and-a-half-year high, the highest level since the brink of the recession in 2008. And although the United States imports little Libyan oil, decreased Libyan production could increase the demand for Nigerian oil, leading to higher prices in a nation from whom we do import considerable quantities of oil. The economics organization IHS Global Insight stated recently that a $10-per barrel increase sustained for one year could mean the loss of almost 300,000 American jobs. Months, or a year, of rising oil prices — in light of economists stating that a one dollar increase at the pump detracts $100 billion from the American economy yearly, and the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs — could close the door on a second term for Obama.

In addition, the unfavorable economy begs the question as to whether Obama will campaign on a domestic or foreign policy-oriented platform. Challenging an incumbent presiding over a struggling economy, Palin, Pawlenty, Romney and Gingrich have the upper hand on economic matters. Collectively, however, they lack foreign policy experience. If Mr. Obama can return oil prices to their pre-Libya levels and in doing so continue to repair the economy while simultaneously crafting a foreign policy centered on humanitarianism, he will make a strong case for his re-election.

In order to stabilize Libyan oil production and lower oil prices, Mr. Obama must remove Muammar Qaddafi from power. Obama’s promise to keep American troops off the ground means disorganized rebel forces will shoulder the military burden with the support of British commandos, MI6 and CIA operatives. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Congress that the CIA has been working in Libya for weeks now, gathering intelligence for airstrikes, studying the rebels, and providing them with organizational and logistical support. The CIA has a history of initiating regime changes and installing leaders whom Washington smiles upon; while Obama has stated that “The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be … a task for the Libyan people themselves,” he has also stated that “it will be a task for the international community.” Ex-general Wesley Clark recently stated the difficulty of formulating timelines for interventions of this nature, implying that our presence in Libya may persist for months to come.

Our indefinite presence and lack of endgame, in conjunction with our CIA presence, leaves room for interpretation as to Obama’s post-Qaddafi vision of Libya. Even prior to the removal of Qaddafi, the Libyan National Council has penned a preliminary constitution, “A Vision of a Democratic Libya,” that states in Clause 8.b that “the interests and rights of foreign nationals and companies will be protected.” While it would be imprudent to accuse the Obama administration of intervening in Libya with the intent to establish an American puppet regime, a study of past CIA interventions would deem it equally unwise to assume that the United States does not intend to usher in a Libyan government favorable to American economic interests. But said Obama Friday, “The change in the region will not and cannot be imposed by the United States or any foreign power. Ultimately, it will be driven by the people of the Arab world.” The coming weeks and months will assess the truth of the president’s words.

Issue 21, Submitted 2011-04-06 02:38:56