Revisiting ‘leading from behind’

Several months ago, an unnamed Obama administration official referred to U.S. policy in Libya as “leading from behind.” The point was to describe and defend a controversial policy: American forces were playing a leading role in preventing Gaddafi’s mass slaughters, but the U.S. was also prepared to have coalition partners play an even more active military role. This was especially true of European countries, most notably France, which have a longer history with Libya.

The right relentlessly mocked the phrase. Steve Kornacki notes this morning that the apparent demise of the Gaddafi regime casts the larger strategy in a new, more positive light.

In terms of making [the right’s] case, it certainly helped the right that the NATO-led operation to which Obama committed American support didn’t immediately dislodge Gadhafi, and that it appeared throughout the spring and into the summer that the civil war would continue along indefinitely as a stalemate. It was during this window that Rick Santorum, Romney’s fellow candidate, opined that Libya was “a morass.”

But then, all of a sudden, came the past few days and a series of dramatic advances by the rebels, culminating in their move into Tripoli and the arrest of two of Gadhafi’s sons. […]

[This appears to] be the outcome that hawks on the right have been saying they wanted all along. That it is now on the brink of being achieved five months after the implementation of the no fly zone would seem to suggest that, just maybe, there was actually some wisdom to “leading from behind.”

The right has invested enormous energy for several years in pushing a caricature of Obama — he’s not tough enough; he’s too prone to concessions; he’s not strong enough to follow through.

At least when it comes to national security, military policy, and counter-terrorism, this is a president who’s made the GOP’s caricature look awfully foolish.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.