When President Obama addressed the Libyan rebels' seizure of Tripoli today, Yahoo's Laura Rozen notes, he made an effort to avoid President Bush's "'Mission Accomplished' triumphalism." But that hasn't stopped analysts from wondering whether the seemingly imminent fall of Muammar Qaddafi's regime vindicates Obama's foreign policy doctrine of "leading from behind."
The phrase, which was first used by an Obama adviser in an interview with The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza in May, is intended to describe Obama's decision to build international consensus for a U.N.-authorized military intervention in Libya and have NATO--not the U.S.--lead that mission. More generally, as Lizza put it at the time, "leading from behind" is an effort to further American interests and ideals through "stealth and modesty as well as military strength" because of America's declining power and popularity in the world. The commentary on whether Obama scored a victory in Libya generally falls into three camps.
David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration national security official, tells Politico's Ben Smith that we're now witnessing "a pivot in U.S. foreign policy where we have gone from a brief moment of sole superpower overconfidence and over-extension of our resources to something new." In fact, Smith points out that the resources the U.S. spent to depose Qaddafi--$1.1 billion--represents "a virtual rounding error at the Pentagon and the equivalent of a few days of involvement in Afghanistan." And former Obama adviser Bruce Riedel says that sum is appropriate. "The Obama administration from the beginning has wisely seen this as not America's baby to solve," he tells the Los Angeles Times. "Most Libyan oil and natural gas is sold in Europe--not the U.S. It's Italy and France that have the biggest interest in stabilizing this area."