President Obama’s Monday night speech on the “kinetic military activity” in Libya revealed that he has fully accepted the faddish “responsibility to protect” (R2P) rationale for military intervention abroad. Unfortunately, this action is not just a direct attack on Libya’s state sovereignty, but also on America’s.
R2P - sounding a bit like a droid from Star Wars - is a school of thought that developed in response to the propensity of some regimes to commit crimes against their own people and the reticence of the international community to take decisive action. “Responsibility to protect,” however, lacks the firm legal basis that would justify armed intervention in the internal affairs of another state without a declaration of war. This is specifically forbidden by Article 2, Section 7 of the United Nations Charter and by the December 1981 U.N. “Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States.”
Like most left-wing causes, the law is irrelevant when it collides with liberal claims of good intentions. As Mr. Obama loftily put it, not recognizing “our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are.”
O Force propaganda aside, the reason the U.N. Charter and subsequent declarations insisted on the sanctity of national sovereignty was specifically to prevent the U.N. from becoming a world police force. The U.N. was founded as a multilateral organization pledged to take action only when war crossed state boundaries. Internal affairs were left to each country individually. The armed humanitarians of the R2P school believe human-rights concerns outweigh state sovereignty, and force can - indeed must - be used to set things straight. When done under the umbrella of the U.N., inconvenient matters like congressional authorization may also be dispensed with.
The downside of the “responsibility to protect” logic is obvious to everyone except Mr. Obama’s inner circle. Destroying Libya’s sovereignty means diminishing American sovereignty. By establishing a precedent for U.N. armed intervention in internal affairs, any country - even the United States - could be subjected to it sometime in the future. This is fine by the R2P crowd. U.S. allies like Israel have long been on their hit list. Samantha Power, senior director of multilateral affairs on the National Security Council and one of the architects of the war in Libya, is a decided enemy of the Jewish state. In a 2002 interview, she counseled a massive intervention in Israel to protect Palestinians: “What will have to be a mammoth protection force … a meaningful military presence because, it seems to me at this stage, and this is true of actual genocides as well and not just major human-rights abuses which we’re seeing there, but is that you, you have to go in as if you’re serious.”
Many R2P partisans like Ms. Power currently advising the president would have welcomed U.N. moves against President George W. Bush for his alleged “war crimes.” Hypocrisy notwithstanding, there’s little mystery how these ideologues would respond to international action against Mr. Obama’s current terrorist detainee policies and expanded covert drone strikes in Pakistan.
Adopting the R2P framework also opens Mr. Obama to charges of hypocrisy. “Responsibility to protect” is an obligation, not an option, so one might ask how the administration can sit back and watch an actual bloodbath developing in Syria while chest thumping about stopping a theoretical bloodbath in Libya. “As president,” Mr. Obama proclaimed, “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.” Those mourning the innocents shot down in Syria - and Iran, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere - are not impressed.