As President Obama attempts to draw a circle around the military engagement in Libya on Monday night, he is simultaneously drafting an annex to the doctrine of American power that circumscribes his own actions. Obama is going to try to tell us when he thinks that America’s awesome arsenal should be put to use against bad people, and then the circumstances that don’t call for the exercise of war-making.
When a president orders troops into battle, his justification is usually a consequence of policy (when such intervention is warranted), capacity (do we have the resources to do it?) and exigency (what precipitated the action?).
Libya seems easy: the universal dignity of all humans is something America respects and has the ability to protect, and the slaughter of civilians was imminent. But some clarification is warranted.