Who We are and Who He Is
By Stephen Hayes
December 19, 2016
On March 28,
2011, Barack Obama stood behind a presidential podium at the National Defense
University and addressed the nation. His ostensible topic was Libya, and his
ostensible purpose was to explain his decision to intervene there. And over the
course of his 27-minute address, he did this.
Muammar Qaddafi was poised to attack his own citizens. “His
forces," Obama said, "continued their advance, bearing down on the
city of Benghazi, home to nearly 700,000 men, women, and children who sought
their freedom from fear." If the United States and its allies had waited,
he added, Benghazi could have suffered "a massacre that would have
reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world."
Obama used the occasion, though, to speak on themes much grander
than the conflict in Libya at that moment in the spring of his third year in
office. He used it to describe his understanding of America's role in the world
throughout history. "For generations," he said, "the United
States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and
as an advocate for human freedom. Mindful of the risks and costs of military
action, we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world's many
challenges. But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a
responsibility to act."
Doing nothing, he argued forcefully, was not an option for a nation
as great as ours:
A betrayal of
who we are. Those words echoed in our ears this week as we watched with
horror the slow-motion slaughter in Aleppo, Syria. For months, the civilians who
remained there have been waiting and expecting to die. And death has found them
by the thousands. Some died in attacks launched by the jihadists who have long
held the eastern part of the war-torn city. Others perished in barrel bombings
conducted by their own government, which has targeted hospitals, schools, and
Charred buildings sit abandoned. Many streets are impassable,
cluttered with rubble, burned-out cars, and, at times, bodies. Clarissa Ward, a
reporter covering Syria for CNN, said: "This is actually hell. This is what
hell feels like, and there is no way it can get any worse than this."
She was describing Aleppo in 2012.
"It got a lot worse," she said. "Much worse."
Last week, Syrian regime forces systematically executed civilians
left in Aleppo, including children. A brief pause in the fighting between rebels
and government forces to allow innocents safe passage out of the city ended when
regime-backed militants opened fire on the buses dispatched to fetch those