For those who care about “international legitimacy,” the gold standard is a United Nations Security Council resolution. The Obama foreign policy team as a whole has been obsessed with legitimacy since the White House was merely a gleam in the eye of the junior senator from Illinois. Indeed, the administration’s sense of amour propre is grounded in no small measure in feelings of superiority about its care for and cultivation of legitimacy, especially in contrast with its cowboy-unilateralist predecessor. So it is that Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 form the backdrop for our current adventures in Libya.
It would take a near-invincible skepticism about the utility of the United Nations in international politics to deny that these resolutions have had value for the United States in organizing the response to Muammar Qaddafi’s intention to hold on in Libya at all costs. The administration sought and supported them, and apparently got the wording it wanted. Under U.N. auspices, the buy-in among allies and even some Arab countries (following an Arab League request for a no-fly zone) was substantially greater than it would otherwise likely have been, even though the cost in delay was nearly fatal to the Libyan rebels. And the United States has certainly been subject to much less international criticism than it would have been in their absence.