August 22nd, 2011
05:12 PM ET

Libya vindicates Obama's multilateral leadership

Michael E. O'Hanlon

Editor's Note: Michael O’Hanlon specializes in national security and defense policy and is senior author of the IraqAfghanistan, and Pakistan Index projects.

By Michael O'Hanlon - Special to CNN

Today's developments in Libya promise to help the Libyan people a good deal, even as the potential for protracted and deadly urban combat cannot yet be fully dismissed.  They also help President Obama.

He 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.

That said, Americans don't seem that fixated on Libya now - which is part of why the president could afford to be so patient in recent months.  The applicability of this case to other situations isn't so obvious.  And we have always as a nation tended to seek a minimal role in humanitarian operations so one can debate how much here is new - avoiding a major role in humanitarian interventions is not exactly a major innovation in the annals of U.S. foreign policy.

And of course the whole thing isn't over yet either, because once Gadhafi is gone it's crucial to build a stable new Libya.  That will involve encouraging and influencing the transitional government to take courageous steps to reach out to former opponents - even with bloodshed on both sides so recent and distrust so elevated - to seek a path of reconciliation.

We must avoid the "mission accomplished" mentality that informed our thinking about Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003, and so Obama's work here is far from done, as I think he knows.

In 2001, it was assumed that a fresh start from the oppressive Taliban, a charismatic new leader in the person of Hamid Karzai, and a small bit of outside support could produce a stable Afghanistan.  We were wrong.  In 2003, we assumed in the now-infamous words of Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya that Iraqi citizens would throw flowers at the feet of American troops.  Wrong again.

Countries that have recently suffered civil wars have up to a 50-50 chance of recidivism. That may be particularly true in tribal societies with weak histories of national identity.  So as Gadhafi falls, we can breathe a sigh of relief that this phase of the war at least may be ending.  But there is so much more to do.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Michael O'Hanlon.

soundoff (264 Responses)
  1. Gwb

    as a former prez and as a complete and utter illiterate buffoon, even I have to applaud obama. I am a frikn idiot who can't speak English properly and run a country into bankruptcy. Obama is da man. he's done what I failed to do.

    August 23, 2011 at 1:25 am |
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    Why would you come to a site you dont like? Go read Fox or whatever else you think is "better". Evolution will take care of you, slowly but surely, idiocy will be bred out.

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