The PJ Tatler

Libya: Did 'Leading From Behind' Work?

The Austin American-Statesman took a look at that question, and being the liberal MSM outfit that it is, says yes, and the outcome in Libya vindicates President Obama. The editorial board headlines the piece “Obama’s approach to Libya a success,” and then attempts to defend that headline.

When Obama announced his strategy back in March, we joined others who harbored doubts about where it would lead. Now, with Gadhafi’s 42-year reign apparently at an end, the president looks wise in deciding to align us with NATO allies in limited military operations aimed at supporting Libyan rebels.

“And all of this was done without putting a single U.S. troop on the ground,” Obama said Monday.

Not a single troop on the ground, but a lot of pivotal U.S. input. The Associated Press reported that the U.S., its NATO allies and other countries “were quietly but crucially helping rebels gain their footing against the much stronger forces loyal” to Gadhafi.

“Covert forces, private contractors and U.S. intelligence assets were thrown into the fight in an undercover campaign operating separately from the NATO command structure,” the AP reported. “Targeted bombings methodically took out Gadhafi’s key communications facilities and weapons caches. And an increasing number of American hunter-killer drones provided round-the-clock surveillance as the rebels advanced.”

At this point, we view Obama’s strategy as a foreign policy success. The world is a better place without leaders like Gadhafi. It is America’s proper role to do what it can to help get rid of them. It is also America’s role to do what it can to ensure that despots are replaced by democracies.

The op-ed goes on from there to argue against “isolationist” policies, a straw man hit on anyone who opposed the Libya enterprise. You don’t have to be an isolationist to question whether it’s wise to commit American power and prestige to a shaky UN “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine that applied in stronger measure to serious and dedicated enemies like Syria and Iran, but was only being invoked where American interests were not much at stake.

A couple of points are worth making in response to all of this. One, Obama promised a war that would last “days, not weeks” and it has instead taken at least six months. He also burned the War Powers Act along the way, which would get a Republican president ripped to shreds by the very same newspaper. Obama also put NATO (which is really mostly the US) in the lead and tried using that fig leaf to argue that the US wasn’t really shouldering most of the burden when everyone knew that we were. And then, the whole “leading from behind” approach contributed to the war lasting as long as it has, eroding NATO’s military credibility day by day. It was only after NATO dropped the charade of not picking sides, and then picked a side, that the rebels have been able to move decisively against Tripoli. And we still don’t really know what to make of the rebels. It would be wonderful to learn that they’re all pro-Western Jeffersonians committed to the rule of secular law. Wonderful, but unlikely.

While not a single American tear should be shed for Gaddafi, Libya’s outcome is far from clear. Does it “vindicate” Obama to have the world now worried about Libyan weapons being loose and now a dirty bomb threat? If that’s vindication, I’d hate to see what repudiation looks like. That “vindication” may wind up in the hands of terrorist outfits like Hizballah, which is known to be operating in Mexico, and coming from there to a city near the Statesman’s very own headquarters.

The simple fact is, Libya is likely to descend into anarchy along the lines of Somalia, at least in the short term. As long as Gaddafi is alive, the possibility of a Saddam-style insurgency is a real threat, and absent American forces to put it down, Libya may get very bloody very quickly and Gaddafi’s unsecured weapons may start trotting about the globe. I’m not arguing that we should insert American troops or UN peacekeepers into the fray there; far from it. I’m merely noting that there never seems to have been a plan for what to do with Libya should Gaddafi fall.

So some of the above may happen, or none of it. We don’t know. And as long as we don’t know, it’s premature for President Obama or his supporters in the media to claim any sort of vindication.