It’s not ‘new,’ it’s just smart

With the Moammar Gadhafi’s demise in Libya, and the end of his regime, the Obama White House is feeling pretty good, not only about their successes, but also about the way in which their policies are proving effective. The New York Times yesterday heralded a “new American approach to war,” which is working as intended.

The death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is the latest victory for a new American approach to war: few if any troops on the ground, the heavy use of air power, including drones, and, at least in the case of Libya, a reliance on allies.

Only a few months ago, the approach had few fans: not the hawks in Congress who called for boots on the ground, not the doves who demanded a pullout and not the many experts who warned of a quagmire. Most pointedly, critics mocked President Obama for “leading from behind,” a much-repeated phrase that came from an unnamed administration official in an article in The New Yorker.

But the last six months have brought a string of successes. In May, American commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. In August, Tripoli fell, and Colonel Qaddafi fled. In September, an American drone strike killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a top Qaeda operative and propagandist, in Yemen. And on Thursday, people were digesting images of the bloodied body of Colonel Qaddafi, an oppressive strongman who spent decades flaunting his pariah status.

I agree with most of this, though it’s worth noting that this approach to military intervention isn’t entirely “new,” so much as it’s different from the Bush/Cheney model.

In fact, the approach the NYT described — boots off the ground, reliance on air power, cooperation with allies — isn’t really new at all. You’ll recall that the Clinton administration intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, and relied on the same model that Obama adopted in Libya.

The results, it turns out, were nearly identical. Clinton and Obama oversaw successful missions, ending brutalities, working with coalition partners, and getting the intended results without the death of a single American soldier.

There is, in other words, a lesson to be learned. It’s not partisan, per se, so much as it’s ideological — invading countries and sending hundreds of thousands of American troops to occupy a foreign land generally isn’t a wise idea. Liberal internationalism, meanwhile, is putting together quite an impressive win-loss ratio.

That’s not “new,” but it is important for those who take international affairs seriously.