Manzi, who opposes the intervention in Libya, cautions that in "the long-run, we cannot win an arms race with the whole rest of the planet":
I believe that the sucker play in this situation is to adopt an ever more imperial attitude, dig in, and attempt to use unilateral military force to protect our existing position. We would bankrupt ourselves trying to freeze history in place. This is probably what most powers in history would do in our situation. But that doesn’t mean we’re fated to make this mistake. If there’s such a thing as an American genius for dealing with the world, a big part of it is marrying real belief in high ideals with a kind of unsentimental, almost ruthless, practicality. We need that now.
Amen. Accepting new limits on American power is sane, smart and in the end, will better retain the US's global position than endlessly meddling. Empires tend to end with fiscal and military over-reach. One hopes that this isn't inevitable with the US. The one thing that might have happened with Libya is for the US to vote yes in the Security Council and then let the Brits and French do all the military and diplomatic lifting. But the assumption, as Jim notes, is that somehow America must be in the lead. We need to start questioning this assumption aggressively.
Perhaps, as so often, Obama's unsatisfying compromise is the best he can do given the expectations that still attach themselves to the "leader of the free world" (can we retire that hoary old phrase at this point?). Maybe this effort to cede leadership to Europe, while still being part of a military coalition, is a start in the right direction. Here's hoping.
(Photo: A fully armed F-16 fighter jet is pictured at the military base of the 10th Tactical Wing, in Kleine Brogel, Peer, on March 21, 2011. Six Belgian F-16 fighter jets will be active in the ongoing military operations in Libya. By Yorick Jansens/AFP/Getty Images)