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Obama to Partners: Share the Burden

Obama to Partners: Share the Burden

Bill O’Reilly said it was logical.   Donald Trump said it made no sense.  Sarah Palin called it disappointing.

Regardless of one’s opinion of President Obama’s speech last night on the U.S. military intervention in Libya, though,  there no doubt seemed to be hints of an emerging “Obama Doctrine” in his remarks.

There will be times, though, when our safety is not directly
threatened, but our interests and 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, and they are 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. As we have in Libya, our task is
instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.
Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not
simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden
ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for
others to step up as well; to work with allies and partners so that
they bear their share of the burden and pay their share of the costs;
and to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld
by all.

What’s interesting here is that Obama is taking multilateralism to it’s logical conclusion.  For many years, it seems, Americans who skew towards the “internationalist” view of U.S. foreign policy argued that working with allies was an ends in and of itself.  What Obama has done, cleverly, in his speech last night was shifting some of the onus onto America’s global partners.

International approval via United Nations Security Council resolutions or half-hearted NATO missions are simply not enough to maintain global peace and security, Obama seems to be saying, and the U.S. alone will no longer be the world’s policeman.  Rather, U.S. partners, who so often sit on the sidelines and criticize America’s pro-active policies on the world stage will be asked to step up.  Should be interesting to see how this plays out as NATO takes control of Libya operations and democratic desires continue to cause unrest in the Arab world and beyond.



Robert Nolan

Robert Nolan is Editor-in-Chief of New Media at the Foreign Policy Association and a writer and producer of the Great Decisions Television Series on PBS. A former Peace Corps volunteer in Zimbabwe and graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, he has interviewed numerous heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, artists and musicians, and policymakers.