I've been witness to the United States intervening both militarily and covertly in the uprisings and civil wars of other countries for half a century, and what's now being termed the "Obama Doctrine" in Libya doesn't look much different from many of our other forays.
Hasn't it always been our "interests and values" that rightly or wrongly, based on fact or on propaganda, led our nation into foreign intervention?
In fact, in his speech to the nation Monday night, President Obama sounded a lot like his predecessor of 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy.
Back in 1961, in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Taking a similar position, Obama on Monday said, "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and _ more profoundly _ our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances (people seeking freedom as in Libya) would have been a betrayal of who we are."
Sure, the interests and values are less ideological now, but their foundation in a humanitarian pragmatism doesn't make our nation any more consistent and therefore more righteous.
For decades, from Vietnam and Chile to El Salvador and Nicaragua, our mission was to oppose leftist rebellions despite the brutality of the authoritarian military regimes they were fighting. Or, the strategy was to help overthrow governments, even if democratically elected, if they were on the wrong side of the left-right equation and unfriendly to our corporate interests.
With the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, however, we found a new set of rationales for defining when our national interests warranted military support.
Clearly, maintaining a stable Middle East with its oil fields was a top priority for the 1990 war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. After 9/11, that goal and U.S. national security have continued to be major factors in our Middle East strategies, notwithstanding the erroneous Iraq war of 2003.
In President Obama's speech, the decades-old "national interest" rhetoric used to justify foreign intervention was replaced with our "interests and values," which goes beyond national security and adds the humanitarian goal of aiding peoples facing violence in their struggles to be free.
Sure enough, in the Libyan revolt, there was and is no threat to our national security. In fact, Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Sunday acknowledged we had an interest, but not a "vital interest."
So if our role is seen as humanitarian, why Libya? What about Bahrain, Yemen or Syria? Or in Myanmar, for that matter, where a brutally repressive regime has used violence to quell pro-democracy demonstrations?
There's no question that we don't like Moammar Gadhafi, and there's been good reasons for that dislike. Despite his connection to terrorist attacks over the years, in public appearances he comes across as an escaped mental patient. But even repressive rulers who appear calm and sane can be brutal.
As was the case too often in the past, the U.S. is selectively choosing its battles and its wars.
In his speech, Obama said, "It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what's right."
Apparently, in the case of Libya, the threat to our interests and values is a good enough argument for military action. And now as the Libyan rebellion falters, the U.S. could be going a step further by supplying arms to the opposition in its uprising against Gadhafi.
Too bad we don't know who will assume power if, indeed, Gadhafi is driven from his throne.
It's no wonder polls show that only 47 percent of Americans support our military involvement in the Libyan rebellion. Surprisingly, that's far less support than the nation had for its invasion of Iraq eight years ago.
Responding to the rapid-fire events of the past few months, Obama didn't ask Congress for authorization or have time to launch a propaganda campaign, as Bush did to convince Americans that our national security was severely threatened by Iraq.
All we can do now is hope that in our choice of Libya, we have chosen the right country for military intervention and the right opposition for our support.
Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.