August 24th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Debate: Is Libya a victory for "leading from behind"?

Fareed Zakaria says yes: "...the Libya intervention is so significant precisely because it did not follow the traditional pattern of U.S.-led interventions. Indeed, it launched a new era in U.S. foreign policy."

Michael O'Hanlon agrees: "Obama can point to Libya now as a signature example of how to lead multilaterally, encourage others to do more and avoid the Hobson's choice of doing everything ourselves or retreating into defeatism or isolationism."

James Lindsay is not so sure: "...Gadhafi's fall hardly proves that Obama’s strategy was the best or wisest one to pursue. Obama’s critics make the plausible claim that Qaddafi’s ouster “could have been done much quicker and much easier if the administration had led from the beginning.” Of course, that claim rests on the unprovable assumption that a more assertive U.S. policy would not have created problems, such as a fracture in the anti-Gadhafi coalition, that Obama’s strategy avoided."

Senators McCain and Graham don't think so: "[We] regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our air power."

And given the escalation of U.S. involvement in Libya in recent weeks, one could contend the U.S. wasn't "leading from behind" at all.

What do you think?

Post by:
Topics: Debate • Libya

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. leeintulsa

    Leading from behind is not what happened. The french were leading from the front, and we helped our ally with awacs and drones.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:34 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      I find it pathetic to claim the success for leading from behind or from the front. Out of ethic point of view the NATO and its allies had overstepped the mandate 1973 as the conflict wore on. Not that I'm against the Arab Spring and the democratisation movent. It's the hyprocrisy of those countries involved which disgusts me.

      August 24, 2011 at 9:23 am | Reply
    • johnny

      It is not leading from behind but shared sacrifice. Why should the U.S. do all the heavy lifting. NATO took the lead this time which was the right strategy. Obama did a masterful job on this and is getting very little credit. The radical right is never happy because it was not their idea and could not get a coalition in the past to take the lead. There was not 1 American death in this. This is what is called Mission accomplished unlike the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascos........

      August 24, 2011 at 10:14 am | Reply
      • rap321

        The only thing that obama can master anything at has to do with baiting.

        August 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Scott

      Exactly... the FRENCH and UK did the LEADING... Obama is simply trying to take credit for their efforts.

      August 24, 2011 at 10:44 am | Reply
    • Bishop22

      Most important, our children were not on the ground fighting another war. Thank you Mr. President!

      August 24, 2011 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • rap321

      The gutless left can parade all they want. The fact is that thousands more innocent civilians died because of this weak tag a long philosophy. The only way the real adults (conservatives) can keep their sanity is to keep chanting 'Is it 2012 yet?'

      August 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  2. Eric

    NATO air power definitely influenced events on the ground, but none of this was possible without a sizable force of Libyan rebels. Libya is a unique situation that may not be applicable to the next situation. At the present moment, President Obama's course of action worked in this particular scenario. Take no guarantees that it will work the same next time.

    August 24, 2011 at 8:58 am | Reply
  3. Scott

    Leading from behind is a moronic idea. NATO has helped the rebels, yes. But had the US been more active as they were in the beginning (when 90% of the action was from US forces, like the US fires 100 cruise missles, the UK like 8). The rebels may gained ground faster. Leading from behind isn't leading at all... its standing on the sidelines letting others lead.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • Grant C

      When are people going to get it through their heads that the US conducting other people's revolutions for them doesn't work?

      Yes, Qaddafi almost certainly would have been taken out more quickly. However it wouldn;t have been seen as the Libyans overthrowing him it would have been seen as the Americans deposing him. So whatever new regime rose in it's place it would lack regional legitimacy and be seen as an American attempt to install a puppet government. How long do people need to see the problems created in Iraq and Afghanistan before they figure this out?

      It was *important* to let the Libyans do the hard work on the ground themselves. Assist to a reasonable extent,... yes. Go blundering in and try and take everything over turn it into the latest showcase of American military might and the US being in charge of everything? NO. Stupid. Bad outcome almost guaranteed.

      Yes, doing it the right way meant it took longer to oust Qaddafi, but it's better to do it right than do it fast.

      August 24, 2011 at 11:44 am | Reply
  4. Soldierallmylife

    Faraeed's analysis is simply an good example of "cherry picking" . Libya is in no way comparable to Afghanistan or Iraq, nor was/is Gahddafi's military power and committment comparable the opposition we faced in Iraq or Afghanistan. His cost comparisons are ludicrous and have no basis in fact. There is no new "model". Substantially previous administrations have looked for similar conditions, and frankly, if we had taken an early lead the rebels would have succeeded much earlier. The French essentially violated Fareed's "international" mandate realizing the rebels were close to collapse. I would expect a better analysis from Fareed and CNN but CNN also was the one who did the ridiculous faawning piece analyzing a single photo of the White House Situation Room taken during the Osama raid. I note few news media discussed in the manner deserved the administrations utter mishandling of the aftermath of the raaid, which motivated Gate's to publically denounce the museading and self-serving leaks about the raid. Only if you ahve not studied conflicts seriously can you possibly fall for Fareed's facile and misleding analysis.
    I supported the President's action in Libys but was dismayed at his bending the truth-Paris 1919 by Margaret Macmillan, had an interesting quote from Winston Churchill, who was speaking to the allies with reference to Russia, which at that time was in the throes of civil war, the Bolsheviks having not yet achieved victory. Macmillan writes “Allied policy toward Russia remained inconsistent and incoherent, not firm enough to overthrow the Bolsheviks but sufficiently hostile to convince them that the Western powers were their implacable enemy.”

    Churchill, mocking the policies such as they were, is quoted as saying “Were they at war Soviet Russia? Certainly not: but they shot Soviet Russians at sight. They stood as invaders on Russian soil. They armed the enemies of the Soviet government.They blockaded its ports and sunk its battleships.They earnestly desired and schemed its downfall. But war-shocking! Interference-shame!”

    August 24, 2011 at 10:44 am | Reply
  5. AngryCenter

    The Leading From Behind strategy worked in this case because he had credible partners from other Arab and European nations. They were willing to cooperate and work with us to achieve a common goal. When it comes to domestic issues, however, he does not have credible partners in Congress who are willing to cooperate and work with him to achieve a common goal. President Obama needs to adjust his strategy and adopt the bully strategy. He needs to isolate Cantor and conduct a divide-and-conquer strategy. Divide the mainstream GOP from the right-wing Tea Party. I know he campaigned on getting both sides of the aisle to work better together. But the 2010 election changed things. It got much more entrenched. His be-nice-and-reasonable strategy is not going to work. He needs to rally the angry center.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:50 am | Reply
    • Joe

      The center is already angry at Obama. He's done. Worthless pathetic, spineless, liar

      August 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  6. Joe

    This amounted to: I'll do it if you do, ok but you have to go first. Child's play and they know it.

    August 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  7. Patriot

    It's well known that Fareed Zakaria is an Obama fanatic so it's laughably predictable that he would be jumping up and down for joy this early in the game (I guess now that Obama's approval rating is in the 40's CNN decided to put a positive spin on EVERYTHING even remotely Obama-related). Unfortunately it's still WAY too soon to start patting ourselves on the back.

    We have no idea what the new Libya will look like after the war ends, because (as with previous ill-advised Middle Eastern adventures) no one thought to plan that far ahead. For all we know, the AQIM or Muslim Brotherhood factions will end up in control of Libya when the dust finally settles. What then? Will anyone be able to say with a straight face that the Islamic caliphate they are set on establishing is a marked improvement over Gaddafi's rule? If we choose to prevent that eventuality by eliminating those factions, then the war is far from over. If we don't, then we can only cross our fingers and hope that the true proponents of freedom and democracy win out – and we're really not sure just how large THAT faction actually is. Most Muslims seem to prefer Sharia law to American-style governance (republican government, rule of law, guaranteed individual freedoms, equality under law, separation between church and state, etc.). The fact is there really aren't a lot of "secular Muslims" in Libya (or for that matter, the entire world).

    The so-called "Arab Spring" is not what we fervently hoped it would be. Terrorist and militant groups manipulated the populace to rise up and revolt, but they don't share our values or have their fellow citizens' best interests at heart. All they want is power so they can continue to pursue their deadly aims – and we handed them Libya with its billions in oil wealth on a silver platter. It seems to me that the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Quaeda played us for suckers.

    So chill out Fareed. We got a ways to go before you start hanging the "Mission Accomplished" banner on this one.

    August 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  8. babar

    gaddafi is still there....in my opinion libya is finished.it was progressing and growing at a very fast pace but as always america the terrorist has played its part in destroying yet another muslim country.
    gaadafi is not leaving nor he is gonna surrender he is going to take revenge......what gaddafi is doing at the moment is called envoloping.....pull every one towards you and than attack.
    one more thing libya is full of difeerent tribes with different views....
    i ask all the people who use this site...who will be the next president...there are two men in hope of becoming the next president....
    LIBYA will just be left as a home for the terrorist and gang wars.....as the terrorist america wanted.

    August 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  9. ebw

    How can funneling tons of yellow-cake uranium, a cache of WMDs, and 30,000 shoulder-fired rockets to the Muslim Brotherhood be termed a "victory?"

    August 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  10. netcommentator

    A new era in US President cowardice

    August 24, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  11. Adam

    I think that Obama pulled back because of domestic problems but in a way it made the Libyans more determined to fight. This is a country that was under total control, including thought control and it needed this unfortunate baptism of fire.

    This started as a simple protest for the compensation and rights of families of 1200 prisoners that were killed (1996) in two hours in their prison compound because they asked for better conditions inside their prison. They were slaughtered by Gaddafi's brother-in-law on Gddafi's orders.

    The Libyans can feel satisfied that they did this with their own effort but of course without NATO it would have taken years. Libyans acknowledge that and are actually very proud of their co-operation with NATO.

    26,000 civilians were killed by Gaddafi roops (of course not including his troops and mercenaries)
    70,000 injured
    56,000 missing, imprisoned

    Anyone who still thinks that Gaddafi is some kind of hero is either insane or a sadistic psyco.

    August 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Reply
  12. Author Charlieg

    Does anybody here play chess. Sometimes what seems to be the wisest choice is not the wisest choice. The wisest choice in the Civil War would have been for George B. McClellan to have taken Richmond in the Peninsula Campaign, the war would have ended, and we may still have slavery today. Some argue that Cambodia became as bloody as it did because the Khmer Rouge did not have time to mature before they took over back in the '70s.

    The same does apply in Afghanistan and Iraq. The war was successfully waged, the new government took over, and it was not ready. The result was violence.

    After 6 months of war, as wars goes very extremely short, the Transitional Counsel needs to take over. There is no reason to believe they are even remotely ready. They are even less ready than the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq were. Nor are is this counsel ready to control the stockpiles of Arms the old government took over. The conservatives now attack the president for not using more force sooner. The result would have been the Transitional Counsel taking over when they were even less ready.

    We do not even aware of who these people are. In all likely hood the new government will be the old government with new figure heads. Many of the people running the Transitional Counsel are leaders in the old government but who left. Get ready for more of the same when the dust clears.

    Was the President's course the correct one? Not sure. It depends on whether we are affecting real change, descending the nation to chaos, or charting a new, more positive course. On this count, I have no idea.

    August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am | Reply

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