President Obama’s careful, persistent policy on Libya has worked. The rebels are on the verge of a major victory. Libya’s cynical and brutal dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, has lost effective power and is on the run.
As I explained in an op-ed column in the Boston Globe today, while it is too early to brand this a complete victory for American policy, the rebel’s lightning advance over the past week is a vindication for President Obama’s decision to throw U.S. support behind NATO’s intervention in the Libyan civil war on behalf of the rebels. Facing harsh and often unwarranted criticism on the wisdom and constitutional basis of his policy, the President remained steady and focused on NATO’s six month air campaign to weaken Qadhafi’s forces and protect Libyan citizens. He asked Britain and France to lead NATO’s effort but provided essential and unique American capabilities at the start and end of the rebel advance from Benghazi to Tripoli.
This was not, in one Administration official’s disastrous phrase, “leading from behind” but asking our European allies in NATO to take the lead in a country where they have far greater historical, social and economic interests than the U.S. This was the President’s most important insight and should now mean that Europe and the Arab world provide the lion’s share of economic assistance to the new Libyan government that is about to emerge.
There are lots of lessons to learn from the Libya crisis. American leadership in the world is still essential. Those in our own country from the extreme right to the extreme left who preach isolation and retreat would lead us astray at a time when our integration with the rest of the world is greater than it has ever been before. That is why the President’s trust in a NATO success in Libya was so important.
The eventual defeat of Qadhafi also points to another lesson. We may be witnessing a rare and positive turn in the Arab revolutions of the last six months. Even a gradual emergence of a more stable, free and democratic Libya will likely spur on those in the Arab world who hope to topple other dictators. Bashar Assad must surely know that the focus of Arab revolutionaries and the international spotlight will now shift from North Africa to Syria in the days and weeks ahead.