In recent months, as revolution has rocked the Middle East, President Obama has increasingly embraced elements of President Bush’s freedom agenda. He continued this trend again tonight as he attempted to explain his decision to intervene in Libya to those skeptical of the decision to intervene as well as those who think he hasn’t gone far enough.
He largely succeeded in his task.
The president rightly noted that it “would have been a betrayal of who we are,” to have ignored Qaddafi’s assault on Benghazi and to have watched thousands be slaughtered. He also eloquently noted that America’s “future is brighter if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity.”
His words will be tested in the months to come as the “Arab Spring” shows no sign of stopping and violence continues to be deployed against peaceful protesters from Yemen to Bahrain to Syria. While U.S. military intervention will not be required in all of these cases, U.S. moral leadership will be, and it will need to be backed up by actions to support the efforts of those taking to the streets to protest for their freedom.
As the U.S. economy continues to sputter and with war fatigue spanning much of the political spectrum, it is tempting to argue that we can’t confront all of the world’s problems until we get our own house in order. President Obama reminded Americans last night that we have a unique responsibility given our power and our history, and that problems at home — real and perceived — cannot be an excuse for inaction.
Hopefully, the president will follow up his remarks with renewed assistance to Libyan opposition forces as they advance on Tripoli and new statements of support for those taking to the streets in Syria and other cities and towns in the region.
He has much to do to fulfill last night’s rhetoric, but the president continued his evolution from a skeptic of American power to a leader willing to wield that power to advance both moral and strategic interests. Hopefully, the country will embrace his message and unify behind the goal of succeeding in Libya.
— Jamie M. Fly is Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative