Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her most recent book is The Idea that Is America: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World.
President Obama made an important contribution to the Libya debate in his speech Monday night by rejecting the over-worked dichotomy between America’s strategic interests and its core values. Most of the media coverage of the debate relied on this familiar trope. On March 16, at the beginning of the critical week that resulted in a UN resolution and the start of air strikes two days later, the Times reported that “senior officials, notably the national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, have made it clear that the United States does not view Libya as a vital strategic interest.” After the President made the decision to support a no fly zone, the press continued to refer to this dichotomy, but now asserted that values had triumphed over interests. The Times story of the crucial meetings in which the decisions were made—the story which, not coincidentally, provided the original fodder for the “women go to war” saga—began: “Ever since the democracy protests in the region began three months ago, the Obama administration has struggled to balance America’s national security interests against support for democratic principles.”