Obama's Slippery Slope

US involvement in the Kosovo War was based on a principle first espoused by Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain -- "We have a responsibility to act."  President Bill Clinton wasn't convinced at first, but after Blair's unyielding campaign to sell his idea, Clinton went along.  It was the world's first "humanitarian war", and to this day the guiding principle of Western leaders boils down to a single, undefined phrase -- "We have a responsibility to act."

President Obama had nothing to do with the principle's creation, but he used it Monday night in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington to explain why the US went to war with Libya.  His talk was aimed as much at the peoples of the world as it was at the American people, and he left no doubt in anyone's mind that nations of the world "have a responsibility to act" to defend suffering humans wherever they may be.

Like socialism, in theory it sounds wonderful -- the right thing to do, but in practice, it's full of holes because it is such an open-ended, nebulous concept.  The problem with the principle begins to break down with the first word, "we."  Who is "we"?  Is it the UN?  Is it NATO?  Is it the quartet?  No one has yet clarified who "we" are, but if the "we have a responsibility to act" principle is going to be our guiding global principle, someone will have to.  In due course, you can bet that someone will.

The "we have a responsibility to act" principle becomes even more problematic when the word "responsibility" is introduced.  What is "responsibility"?  Is it a duty, a task, or a job?  If it is, then who gave it to "us"?  The UN?  In Libya's case, the answer is yes, but in other instances the answer is no.  Take Iraq, for example.  The US and its allies were going to take action in Iraq.  That was clear from the beginning, but the UN didn't go along.  In the end, a "coalition of the willing" simply assumed responsibility, invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam Hussein, and replaced his dictatorial Baathist regime with a democratic government.  We are still enmeshed in that struggle, but the "we have a responsibility to act" principle is no clearer now than it was in the 1990s when it was first introduced.

The final problem with the "we have a responsibility to act" principle lies in the definition of the phrase "to act."  Broadly defined, "to act" can mean anything from invasion to no-fly zones to embargos of various sorts to anything the "we" decides is their "responsibility."  People who have dedicated their professional lives to law enforcement realize how thorny this arrangement is because it violates every principle of jurisprudence that we have come to accept and respect.  It's the global equivalent of vigilante justice, and it can't and won't survive. 

To become a legitimate guiding principle, the "we have a responsibility act" principle must clearly define "we," "responsibility," and "to act."  Absent those definitions, the "we have a responsibility act" principle leads to chaos and potential repression on a global scale by a "coalition of the willing" or the UN or any other group that sees as its duty the responsibility to take any action it chooses to bring about any outcome it desires.

Will the "we" be the UN?  Maybe, but it's doubtful given the UN's current configuration, its spotty record, and its propensity for manipulation by individuals and groups with dark agendas.  Will it be NATO or a similar group?  Not likely because NATO and groups like it are simply alliances of nations, subgroups of "the nations of the world."  In the end, defining "we" will challenge the very concept of "sovereign nation" because if the "we" has a "responsibility to act," then nations by definition can't be sovereign. 

We are in the process of defining what has come to be known as "one world government."  In due course, the questions I've posed will have to be answered, and they will be answered.  When they're answered we will have a "one world government" with laws, regulations, taxing authority, and enforcement powers -- everything a global government will need to operate. 

I'm not telling you this because I think it's the right thing to do.  I'm bringing it up because it's inevitable, and it's taking place right now.  We're not waiting for it to happen.

Neil Snyder earned a Ph.D. degree in strategic management from the University of Georgia in 1979 and taught leadership and strategy at the University of Virginia for 25 years.  He retired from UVA in 2004 and is currently the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at UV.
US involvement in the Kosovo War was based on a principle first espoused by Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain -- "We have a responsibility to act."  President Bill Clinton wasn't convinced at first, but after Blair's unyielding campaign to sell his idea, Clinton went along.  It was the world's first "humanitarian war", and to this day the guiding principle of Western leaders boils down to a single, undefined phrase -- "We have a responsibility to act."

President Obama had nothing to do with the principle's creation, but he used it Monday night in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington to explain why the US went to war with Libya.  His talk was aimed as much at the peoples of the world as it was at the American people, and he left no doubt in anyone's mind that nations of the world "have a responsibility to act" to defend suffering humans wherever they may be.

Like socialism, in theory it sounds wonderful -- the right thing to do, but in practice, it's full of holes because it is such an open-ended, nebulous concept.  The problem with the principle begins to break down with the first word, "we."  Who is "we"?  Is it the UN?  Is it NATO?  Is it the quartet?  No one has yet clarified who "we" are, but if the "we have a responsibility to act" principle is going to be our guiding global principle, someone will have to.  In due course, you can bet that someone will.

The "we have a responsibility to act" principle becomes even more problematic when the word "responsibility" is introduced.  What is "responsibility"?  Is it a duty, a task, or a job?  If it is, then who gave it to "us"?  The UN?  In Libya's case, the answer is yes, but in other instances the answer is no.  Take Iraq, for example.  The US and its allies were going to take action in Iraq.  That was clear from the beginning, but the UN didn't go along.  In the end, a "coalition of the willing" simply assumed responsibility, invaded Iraq, deposed Saddam Hussein, and replaced his dictatorial Baathist regime with a democratic government.  We are still enmeshed in that struggle, but the "we have a responsibility to act" principle is no clearer now than it was in the 1990s when it was first introduced.

The final problem with the "we have a responsibility to act" principle lies in the definition of the phrase "to act."  Broadly defined, "to act" can mean anything from invasion to no-fly zones to embargos of various sorts to anything the "we" decides is their "responsibility."  People who have dedicated their professional lives to law enforcement realize how thorny this arrangement is because it violates every principle of jurisprudence that we have come to accept and respect.  It's the global equivalent of vigilante justice, and it can't and won't survive. 

To become a legitimate guiding principle, the "we have a responsibility act" principle must clearly define "we," "responsibility," and "to act."  Absent those definitions, the "we have a responsibility act" principle leads to chaos and potential repression on a global scale by a "coalition of the willing" or the UN or any other group that sees as its duty the responsibility to take any action it chooses to bring about any outcome it desires.

Will the "we" be the UN?  Maybe, but it's doubtful given the UN's current configuration, its spotty record, and its propensity for manipulation by individuals and groups with dark agendas.  Will it be NATO or a similar group?  Not likely because NATO and groups like it are simply alliances of nations, subgroups of "the nations of the world."  In the end, defining "we" will challenge the very concept of "sovereign nation" because if the "we" has a "responsibility to act," then nations by definition can't be sovereign. 

We are in the process of defining what has come to be known as "one world government."  In due course, the questions I've posed will have to be answered, and they will be answered.  When they're answered we will have a "one world government" with laws, regulations, taxing authority, and enforcement powers -- everything a global government will need to operate. 

I'm not telling you this because I think it's the right thing to do.  I'm bringing it up because it's inevitable, and it's taking place right now.  We're not waiting for it to happen.

Neil Snyder earned a Ph.D. degree in strategic management from the University of Georgia in 1979 and taught leadership and strategy at the University of Virginia for 25 years.  He retired from UVA in 2004 and is currently the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at UV.