Echoes of Bush in Obama’s Libya SpeechBy MICHAEL D. SHEAR
The mission of President Obama’s 28-minute address to the nation was, first and foremost, a narrow one: to explain — and defend — his decision to engage in military action in Libya.
But in his speech, Mr. Obama also made a philosophical case for military intervention by the United States in support of democratic movements in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere around the world.
In doing so, the Democratic president echoed the language of his Republican predecessor while offering a more constrained view of America’s role in helping to sweep away the world’s dictators.
Like former President George W. Bush, Mr. Obama said it could be in the interests of the United States to exercise the military power that it alone possesses in the advancement of freedom. But far more than Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama stressed the need to use that power in the context of multilateralism and cooperation.
To those who would — and have — directly compared his intervention in Libya to Mr. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Mr. Obama rejected the similarities and made clear that he had no interest in another protracted war.
“We are hopeful about Iraq’s future,” Mr. Obama said. “But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya.”
He also framed his rationale for using American military might on a pragmatic, case-by-case basis in which the United States must weigh the moral imperatives of using force in a given country against the practical realities of the military situation on the ground.
“Given the costs and risks of intervention,” Mr. Obama said, “we must always measure our interests against the need for action.”
By contrast, Mr. Bush offered a more black-and-white argument in favor of intervention, saying the use of American power to end tyranny was a vital way to confront the forces of terrorism that threatened the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
And yet, a quick, side-by-side comparison of Mr. Obama’s speech with Mr. Bush’s second inaugural address suggests that both presidents found strikingly similar reasons to believe in the rightness of using American power on behalf of emerging democracies around the globe.
BUSH: “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it.”
OBAMA: “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.”