The Obama Doctrine: If the sound bite fits, do it

President Obama has stated, in a telephone call with Angela Merkel on Saturday about Colonel Gaddafi, that “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.” Could this be the long-awaited “Obama Doctrine,” at least in outline? It certainly seems to have the high-sounding tome of a presidential pronouncement…

For President Obama is a man who does not want to act when it’s right to do so unless it also sounds right. If the sound bite fits, do it, especially if it includes impressive words from international jurisprudence like “legitimacy.” The fact is, however, that were the pro-Gaddafi forces, which seem to include the all-important air force, actually—God forbid—to defeat the insurgents, and were Gaddafi to re-establish control in Libya, the United States and the West would quickly find that he had re-established his “legitimacy to rule” too. We would be sending back our oilmen after a decent interval, all talk of “legitimacy” conveniently forgotten. Legitimacy comes from different places in different countries at different periods of history, and in Libya since 1969 it has come from the barrel of a gun, which is where it very firmly remains today.