Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Syllogizing the Obama Doctrine

In his address on Monday night (1), President Obama put forth what has been called the “Obama Doctrine” for the use of military force (2).  It is a narrow doctrine--perhaps only applicable in instances where intervention may save civilian lives--but was explicated with clarity.  Here, then, is the formalized doctrine as laid out in his speech:
P1 There is the potential for violence on a horrific scale in X,
P2 The US has a unique ability to prevent or stop such violence,
P3 There is an international mandate for action to prevent such violence, and
P4 There is local support for the military action in the area to be struck,
C  It is permissable to intervene militarily in X for the purpose of preventing or stopping such violence. (3)
Under this rubric, questions as to why the US should not presently intervene in the Ivory Coast (4), for example, under such a doctrine are besides the point.  This “Obama Doctrine” enumerates the conditions under which the US may use military force in a particular type of conflict.  It is not a measurement for determining whether these conditions obtain in a particular instance nor is it stating the necessity of the use of force were such conditions to be present.  In the case of Ivory Coast, that conflict lacks the international mandate for action that the Libyan intervention has, in the form of a UN resolution and an international coalition.

NB: Regarding the title of this post, I intend ‘syllogism’ to mean merely the formalization of a particular policy doctrine.  As a commenter stated, this formalization provides something close to the necessary and sufficient conditions under which President Obama deems the application of military force appropriate (or at least the sufficient conditions).  Of course, the premises laid down above are not fashioned in the proper syllogistic form of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion, but that is again besides the point.  A by-the-book syllogism can easily be constructed by condensing P1-P4 into a major premise, stating that those conditions do obtain in the minor premise, and keeping the conclusion right where it is.

(1) Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Libya” at the National Defense University, Washington, D.C. March 28, 2011
(2) “The birth of an Obama doctrine” in Lexington’s Notebook, the Economist online. March 28, 2011.
(3) The speech states these points quite succinctly:
“In this particular country -– Libya -- at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.... Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”
(4) McFarland, K. T. “What We Learned From Obama's Libya Speech,”, March 29, 2011.


Test said...

If I recall correctly, President Obama did not make the stronger claim that the United States ought to intervene militarily. Instead, I believe he concluded that it was permissible that the United States intervened.

At least in interviews after his speech, it appeared that President Obama was taking the position that his speech outlined the necessary and sufficient conditions of permissive military intervention, but was noncommittal as to the stronger normative claim of when the United States was obligated, in any sense, to intervene.

Moreover, as an important premise, President Obama relied on the endangerment of U.S. interests. What those interests currently are, as well as what other interests would be likewise sufficient to justify military action in other cases, he was again not so clear.

James said...

I think that's about right. Thanks for the refinement.

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