In the Huffington Post: Deposing Gaddafi 'From Behind'?

Leon T. HadarJournalist and foreign affairs analyst
Deposing Gaddafi 'From Behind'?
Posted: 8/22/11 05:44 PM ET

Neoconservative critics have blasted President Barack Obama for failing to assert U.S. leadership in the foreign policy arena, with his somewhat muddled response to the anti-Gaddafi insurgency in Libya serving as a case in point. Indeed, the neocons have being quoting ad nauseam from a New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, in which an indentified administration official described Obama's actions in Libya as "leading from behind."

The official was trying to contrast Obama's efforts to depose dictator Muammar Gaddafi in Libya with former President George W. Bush's strategy in Iraq, the argument being that while Obama's predecessor embraced a unilateral, U.S.-led and very costly (money-wise and in American and Iraqi lives) military action in Iraq that, among other things, helped ignite a civil war in Mesopotamia, the current White House refrained from deploying U.S. troops to Libya and instead allowed its NATO allies to take the lead there while providing them with some air support.

I have been very critical of Obama's response to the upheaval in Libya and continue to believe that neither direct nor indirect U.S. military action was required in Libya, considering the very limited effects that developments there would have on core U.S. national interests, not to mention the fact that the White House should have received authorization from Congress before taking such action.

I personally did not have any problem with France or Britain -- or, for that matter, any other European or Arab government -- using military force to help the rebels and depose Gaddafi. But as I suggested in an earlier article, the French have succeeded in maneuvering the Obama Administration into a more active military involvement in Libya that has the potential to draw the U.S. into a military and diplomatic quagmire in that country even if Gaddafi is deposed and the insurgents take power (and it seems that that could happen sooner than later).

My guess is that the collapse of the Gaddafi regime is not going to bring about the establishment of liberal democracy in Libya and could instead unleash political chaos and violence and perhaps even ignite a civil war between the various tribes there. But for the cheerleaders for Bush's Iraq War to bash Obama for his performance in Libya is just very, well, neoconish.

After all, we had that kind of disastrous outcome in Iraq but with much of the costs paid by American soldiers and taxpayers, and with Iran and its allies emerging as the real winners in the story. That a post-Gaddafi Libya could be facing a similar outcome should certainly be of concern to the Libyan people and to some of the countries in the region that could be affected by the developments there.

But the point is that the costs of the (unnecessary) U.S. military involvement in Libya amount to the costs of a week or so of the American military occupation of Iraq. The U.S. should now take steps to bring to an end even that limited military intervention in Libya and encourage the Libyan people to rebuild their country while expanding American diplomatic and economic cooperation with them. And if the Brits, the French, the Italians or some of Libya's neighbors have an interest in establishing military ties with the new government, well, that is their business.

In a way, the basic idea of the U.S. "leading from behind" makes a lot of sense if it means that Washington should encourage regional players to protect their own direct strategic interests in a way that does not require direct U.S. military intervention. The use of direct American military force should be reserved only to those instances when core U.S. interests are being threatened.

In Iraq, on the other hand, those interests had not been threatened, and under the leadership of Bush and the neocons the U.S. lurched ahead and used its full military power, with disastrous results to all concerned. Unfortunately, those who insist on doing reruns of this kind of disaster have not been left behind in Washington.

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