Free Markets, Free People

“Leading from behind” is not a doctrine that serves the best interests of the US

Jackson Diehl takes an interesting look at the Obama doctrine for foreign policy or, as some have called it, “leading from behind”.  Diehl prefers to call it the “light footprint” doctrine:

Contrary to the usual Republican narrative, Obama did not lead a U.S. retreat from the world. Instead he sought to pursue the same interests without the same means. He has tried to preserve America’s place as the “indispensable nation” while withdrawing ground troops from war zones, cutting the defense budget, scaling back “nation-building” projects and forswearing U.S.-led interventions.


It’s a strategy that supposes that patient multilateral diplomacy can solve problems like Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; that drone strikes can do as well at preventing another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland as do ground forces in Afghanistan; that crises like that of Syria can be left to the U.N. Security Council.

Okay.  I really dont’ buy into the claim that Obama hasn’t led a “U.S. retreat from the world”, but I’m willing to stipulate that to get to the rest.

The rest, of course, has to do with the ineffectiveness and potential problems this doctrine presents.  And they’re not small problems either.  One thing that observers of world affairs seem to pick up on fairly quickly is that someone or something will fill a power vacuum.  Say what you want about “light footprints” or “leading from behind”, it has indeed created that sort of vacuum.  And other countries, notably Russia and China globally and Iran regionally, are busily trying to figure out how to fill that vacuum.

Perhaps, in the long run, it is best we do withdraw somewhat.  Fiscal reality demands at least some reductions and foreign policy is not exempt.  But it should be done shrewdly and according to some overall plan that carefully considers the ramifications of such a withdrawal.

Secondly, it likely makes sense not to involve ourselves too deeply in situations that don’t really concern us or threaten our security.  Like Libya.  It is interesting that Libya was a “go”, but Syria was a “no-go”, considering the stated reasoning (or propaganda if you prefer) for intervention in Libya.

So how has it worked?  Well, for a while it seemed to be working well enough – and then:

For the last couple of years, the light footprint worked well enough to allow Obama to turn foreign policy into a talking point for his reelection. But the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 should have been a red flag to all who believe this president has invented a successful new model for U.S. leadership. Far from being an aberration, Benghazi was a toxic byproduct of the light footprint approach — and very likely the first in a series of boomerangs.

Why were Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans murdered by Libyan jihadists? The preliminary round of official investigations may focus on decisions by mid-level officials at the State Department that deprived the Benghazi mission of adequate security, and a failure by the large CIA team in the city to detect the imminent threat from extremist groups.

But ultimately the disaster in Libya derived from Obama’s doctrine. Having been reluctantly dragged by France and Britain into intervening in Libya’s revolution, Obama withdrew U.S. planes from the fight as quickly as possible; when the war ended, the White House insisted that no U.S. forces stay behind. Requests by Libya’s fragile transition government for NATO’s security assistance were answered with an ill-conceived and ultimately failed program to train a few people in Jordan.

Where does that leave us?

A new report by the Rand Corporation concludes that “this lighter-footprint approach has made Libya a test case for a new post-Iraq and Afghanistan model of nation-building.” But the result is that, a year after the death of dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Libya is policed by what amounts to a mess of militias. Its newly elected government has little authority over most of the country’s armed men — much less the capacity to take on the jidhadist forces gathering in and around Benghazi.

The Rand study concludes that stabilizing Libya will require disarming and demobilizing the militias and rebuilding the security forces “from the bottom up.” This, it says, probably can’t happen without help from “those countries that participated in the military intervention” — i.e. the United States, Britain and France. Can the Obama administration duplicate the security-force-building done in Iraq and Afghanistan in Libya while sticking to the light footprint? It’s hard to see how.

It certainly is.  In fact, Libya is a disaster.  If the purpose of US foreign policy is to enhance the interests of the US I defy anyone to tell me how that has been done in Libya.  And now there are rumors we’re going to do the same thing in Mali (mainly because much of the weaponry that the Gaddafi government had has spread across the Middle East after their fall, to include terrorist groups which are now basing out of Mali).

How will the Obama administration answer these challenges?  Diehl thinks he’ll rely even more heavily on drone strikes.  But again, one has to ask how that furthers and serves the best interests of the United States:

A paper by Robert Chesney of the University of Texas points out that if strikes begin to target countries in North Africa and groups not directly connected to the original al-Qaeda leadership, problems with their legal justification under U.S. and international law “will become increasingly apparent and problematic.” And that doesn’t account for the political fallout: Libyan leaders say U.S. drone strikes would destroy the goodwill America earned by helping the revolution.

Anyone who still believes the myth that we’re better loved in the Middle East right now, needs to give up smoking whatever it is they’re smoking.  Adding increased drone strikes in more countries certainly won’t promote “goodwill” toward America.  It will, instead, provide jihadists with all the ammunition they need to demonize the country further – which, of course, helps recruiting.

I’m not contending this is easy stuff or there’s a slam-dunk alternate solution.  But I am saying that doing what was done in Libya for whatever high sounding reason has been a disaster, has not served the best interests of the United States and, in fact, will most likely be detrimental to its interests.

It is, as Deihl points out, a huge red flag.  The doctrine of choice right now is not the doctrine we should be pursuing if the results are like those we’ve gotten in Libya.  If ever there was a time for a ‘reset’ in our foreign policy approach, this is it.


28 Responses to “Leading from behind” is not a doctrine that serves the best interests of the US

  • What is our national interest in Libya?  Outside of letting it become a failed state and a possible safe haven for terrorists I can’t think of one.  It appears to be more important to the Europeans so let them deal with it.  Oh wait, their fiscal problems prevent them from having a strong military.  I can’t wait till we are more like the Europeans because ain’t that going swell?
    Don’t answer that.  Four more years of the this crap is going to be special.

  • 1. The concerns about international law are irrelevant as long as the president is a Democrat popular with the other nations on the Security Council. Neither the media nor the “International Community” (snerk) give a red rat’s ass. The hard left won’t mind, as long as they get to loot their neighbors.
    2. I loathe Obama, but his “light footprint” guarantees failure at a small fraction of the cost of Bush’s recipe for guaranteed failure. It would be better to leave these shitty little countries alone, both for them and for us — but at least we’re failing cheaply. On the other hand, if it distracts him from his neighbor-looting domestic agenda, that’s a definite plus. But I don’t think it does.
    3. In Android 2.x, I found it impossible to post a comment here. Bit of a bummer. That was with the OS browser. Now that I think of it, I should’ve tried Opera before giving up.

    • My point was mostly in line with your number 2. The best interests of the US were not served by our intervention in Libya, no matter how “light”.

  • Libya has gone well!  Gaddafi, the guy who wasn’t stirring up any trouble is gone and replaced by…well, whatever it is at the moment it’s only stirred up trouble for the US and some folks in Libya, so for Europe, it’s cool.
    Now we an ‘Watch and Learn’ to see what method the Jihadies in Egypt use to destroy the Sphinx and the Pyramids, how much longer Arab Spring will water the earth with Syrian blood and how long Iran can go on making threats without demonstrating it’s actual military reach really is considerably shorter than it’s pretend military reach.
    We’ll get to observe the regression of secular Turkey towards the days of the Caliphate, perhaps even a renewal of our MAD vows…but this time we’ll be perfectly correct when we call it the ‘Russian threat’ instead of the ‘Soviet threat’.  Ah, how I miss the days of going to sleep with the nuclear hammer and sickle poised over my country’s head like the Sword of Damocles.
    And nationally, well, what can one say, other than I’m sure it’s all ‘good and necessary’ you know?

  • Libya is a friend now, rather than a foe—if the news reports and films after the Benghazi breach can be believed.

    • Who in Libya is a “friend” Tad? The “government” which controls nothing or the Jihadis who killed our Ambassador?

    • Too funny dude, it must be entertaining at the party in your head.

    • Yes, Amb. Stevens certainly knows all about our new friends….

    • Nio, Libya is now in a similar state as Afganistan after the USSR left.

    • As the old saw goes, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”. Even if they actually were our friends,  Libya belongs to the category of “friends” that always costs us money and blood. Who needs them?

      • In his mind, he’s resigned himself that Libya is an Obama success.  You won’t change that with dynamite.

  • Now, if you really want to cringe, there is a headline on Drudge about John Kerry becoming SecDef.

  • Gaddafi gave up his nuke program when Bush invaded Iraq, and was fighting al quada along side us. Not that he was a good guy, but circumstances were such that he was on our side.

    No, Libya is the radical islamist version of the wild west with a bunch of uncontrolled manpads. Manpad + uncontolled border = risk to domestic airlines. Thanks, Obama.

  • I will probably disagree with most of you here. I think we spend entirely too much on the military and could get by with less. I think we should actively disengage from all of our Middle-east pursuits as they have caused more problems than they have solved.
    In fact before we started mucking around there a decade ago. we had only Afghanistan as an active enemy. Saddam was contained. Iran and Syria were stable, and the rest of the nations there were our nominal allies. Now we have maybe two allies left. Iraq is unstable. And most of the rest of those nations are actively opposed to us in some degree or other.  It is a mess.
    I don’t think we can solve anything the way we have been doing it.

    • You are assuming things would remain stable without us there.
      Looking at Syria, one can easily imagine an Arab Spring in Iraq that basically replicates the civil war we caused by invading, i.e. it was always there under the surface.

      • “You are assuming things would remain stable without us there.”
        You call this stability??????

    • Sanctions against Saddam were faltering.  And there was a price tag to containing Saddam.  We were impoverishing their populous and also had a huge military base in Saudi Arabia.  Neither of which was endearing us to people in the region.  Of course history started in 2003 so those weren’t important.  Except to Bin Laden and Al Queda leading up to 2001.  This isn’t retroactive justification.  I remember the hypocrisy in real-time about the people tell us the harm our sanctions were doing flipping to saying sanctions were working great, no need to invade.

    • Those are old talking points. I do not buy this garbage that without the saintly might of American Arms the whole world will descend into utter barbarism. WE STIR UP most of the shit we get into.
      If someone hurts us I am all for reprisals, but get in, get it done, and get out. You guys are just like Obama, you are looking at an utter disaster of a policy and saying, we need to stay the course.

  • “But now Petraeus is telling friends he does not think he should testify.”

    • Another new standard set under this brilliant administration – Head of DOJ, contempt of Congress, Head of the Treasury, tax cheat, Head of the CIA, immune from giving testimony because he had an affair (why not you jay walked, or you were caught driving under the influence?), Secretary of State,  unable to testify before the Senate because she’s traveling on personal business.
      I hope the Senate is appreciating the disdain they’re getting from the Executive branch, is Reid even bright enough to understand the message?
      You know if you pretend you’re watching a movie instead of watching your country rush down the toilet, it’s getting entertaining much quicker than I anticipated.

  • “Perhaps, in the long run, it is best we do withdraw somewhat.  Fiscal reality demands at least some reductions and foreign policy is not exempt.  But it should be done shrewdly and according to some overall plan that carefully considers the ramifications of such a withdrawal.”
    Except after WWI we left the world to manage things and we ended up with WWII 20 years later.  WWII wasn’t exactly good for the budget.