A reader writes:
Your depiction of 2008 Democratic politics and the Obama administration's divide on the question of intervention in Libya strikes me as misguided or, at the very least, incomplete. You note that, for those who supported now-President Obama in the presidential primaries, his consistent opposition to the Iraq war was a critical policy distinction from now-Secretary Clinton's initial support.
However, if one surveys President Obama's foreign policy advisers during the presidential campaign--that is, the types of ideas and ideological frameworks he surrounded himself with--it seems obvious that then-Senator Obama's foreign policy priorities did not necessitate a decline in the use of American military power, but rather a shift in the ways in which it is used.
The National Security Council advisers who supported the full spectrum of Libya operations earlier this week--Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and Gayle Smith--have been adamant and public supporters of the implementation of the third pillar of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine, which includes the use of military force, if necessary. All three maintained close relationships with then-Senator Obama, particularly as a result of his active engagement in the Darfur advocacy movement.
The actions of the Obama administration's foreign policy agencies--particularly the prioritization of mass atrocities prevention in the recent Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review and the creation of Rosa Brooks' Office for Rule of Law and International Humanitarian Policy at DoD--have indicated the Obama administration's interest in altering his administration's use of American power in the international sphere.
This new notion of American power's role in the world necessitates the multilateral application of military force, though, importantly, as a last resort. For observers of President Obama's actions, from his selection of foreign policy advisers to the institutional shifts that have occurred in the past 26 months, the prospective (and now real) use of military force to halt Qaddafi's mass targeting of Libya's civilian population should hardly as a surprise. If it does, those observers should pay more attention.