What lessons can be learned from events in Libya? That nothing good will come out of the Arab Spring? That Arabs are volatile, easily excitable and prone to acting out? That the United States, Mitt Romney notwithstanding, cannot control everything or that the United States, Mitt Romney more to the point, has tried to control nothing? In other words, is this what happens when the United States is “leading from behind”?
This phrase, you might remember, was coined in reference to Barack Obama’s reluctance to take the lead in the NATO air campaign that toppled the dictatorship of Moammar Gaddafi. And that operation, in which the French seized the initiative, was mounted to save Benghazi, the city where the insurrection started and the one where U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed last week. Benghazi was saved from Gaddafi’s bloody reprisals, but not from mayhem.
The notion that the United States can lead from behind is pitiful, the sorry concoction of an Obama administration that mistakes dulcet passivity for a foreign policy. The view from behind now has to be awfully depressing. Where once Obama could see the gallant tails of the French, the British, the Italians and some others, there is now no one. The predictably indignant Nicolas Sarkozy has been replaced by the soullessly pragmatic Francois Hollande, who has other fish to saute. NATO’s warplanes have returned to base and Libya, a tribal society, was left to fend for itself. It has not fended all that well.