Is Obama Intervention Doctrine New?


Gilbert Achcar: Obama "doctrine" repeats old justifications for using military force to defend US strategic interests

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. In President Obama’s speech on Libya Monday night, he laid out what might be his doctrine for humanitarian intervention going into the future past Libya. Here’s what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are. Sometimes, the course of history poses challenges that threaten our common humanity and our common security–responding to natural disasters, for example; or preventing genocide and keeping the peace; ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce. These may not be America’s problems alone, but they are important to us. They’re problems worth solving. And in these circumstances, we know that the United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, will often be called upon to help. In such cases, we should not be afraid to act–but the burden of action should not be America’s alone.


JAY: Now joining us from London to give his views, further views on President Obama’s speech is Gilbert Achcar. He teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Thanks for joining us, Gilbert.


JAY: So what do you make of the Obama humanitarian intervention doctrine? You had said in previous interviews about Libya that this was a very specific set of circumstances. But he seems to be broadening this to–I mean, he even says you could have, in theory, a military intervention to protect the flow of commerce.

ACHCAR: Well, this–I mean, this is not any new doctrine whatsoever, what we just heard. It’s a kind of summary of all the reasons given by United States for interventions they have made of course, rather cynical and hypocritical, I would say, between preventing genocide, between helping Japan [inaudible] earthquake and protecting commerce, as you say, which means, which refers to the actions of the United States in the Gulf or during the Iran-Iraq War, for instance, when they intervened against Iran trying to block navigation in the Arab Persian Gulf. So nothing new here, just this summary of the basic kind of pretexts or reasons for US interventions over the last years and decades. And I think the most important part of the speech is when, after speaking of protecting civilians and all that in this case, when he addresses the questions heard now in Washington, is it our role to intervene everywhere to protect civilians. This is a non-starter for the United States. And the reply that he gives in the speech, which sheds a particular light to what we just heard, is it’s a matter of the necessity to intervene matching our strategic interests. And the key point is here. Interventions by the United States are always related to strategic interests of the United States. There are no humanitarian intervention as such. Of course, I mean, Japan or issues like that are there to /cOn."fort/ the view that, you know, these are benefactor states, that they are really humanitarian. But basically when it comes to war, when it comes to the use of weapons, it’s always a matter of strategic interest first and above any other consideration.

JAY: So part of the critique by people that were opposed to the no-fly zone was that this acceptance of the UN resolution in the Libyan case creates the kind of precedent that President Obama seems to be wanting to create, that there’s grounds, as long as–he seems to be more or less saying, as long as you can get a Security Council resolution, then just any kind of intervention’s okay, again, even for the flow of commerce, which I guess could be interpreted right now, as you suggest, as the flow of oil.

ACHCAR: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s also, I mean, nothing new here. The United States has acted and, you know, launched military operations under every single kind of condition you might think of, UN mandate, no UN mandate, against the rest of the world with a large coalition. Whatever. I mean, this is not problem for them. They will do what they want, what they need to do, if they think that their vital strategic interests are at stake. And the scale of their action will depend on their consideration of the amount of interest or the scale of the US interests that are implied in every action. So the point, the point, the point is not here. I mean, the UN, this is nothing absolute really new. On the contrary, if a precedent is made here, the precedent is that the UN authorized a no-fly zone because a dictatorship or, you know, some state were using air force against civilians. That’s a very interesting precedent. I am absolutely in favor of preventing any state on Earth–and I am clear on that, any state on Earth–from using air force against civilians, okay? [inaudible] I think this, the kind of precedent that they have created, as you will see, will really create political problems, I’m sure of that, in the near future for the United States. That’s the key point, beyond the whole hypocrisy and all that about the pretexts or the reasons for this intervention.

JAY: And obviously you’re pointing to Gaza when you–as an obvious example of what you’re saying.

ACHCAR: Of course. I mean, Gaza in 2008, 2009 has been bombed most savagely by the Israeli Air Force and missiles and everything. And of course, I mean, it was completely comparable where you have here a mass, a popular rejection of what Israel is doing. And this is countered by this. And other example in recent years is Lebanon, 2006, when the Israeli Air Force just destroyed huge sections of a country which doesn’t have anything that could be called an air force. I mean, and so that was, you know, completely cowardice, use of brutal force against a country that doesn’t have the means of retaliation. So we have seen this. We have seen this a lot in the Middle East. And we have seen that much more on the side of allies of the United States than on the side of people who are not, or former enemies and recent allies of the United States. So that’s the key point.

JAY: Thanks for joining us, Gilbert.

ACHCAR: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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