For this reason, France has asked the United States for assistance. Should we comply? If so, how?
There is something of an “Obama doctrine” for these sorts of conflicts. On the one hand, it acknowledges the war on terror, the need to kill or capture certain bad guys, the importance of dismantling groups like al-Qaida and containing their expansion—especially when allies request our assistance and are in the fight as well. On the other hand, it clearly declares: “No more Iraqs or Afghanistans”—or, as Obama put it a year ago at a Pentagon news conference announcing the results of a major strategic review, “the end of long-term nation-building with large military footprints.” Instead, as stated in the official document that he and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta signed, the United States “will develop innovative, low-cost, small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives.”
And so there are many hot spots in the world where the Obama administration (sometimes President Obama himself) has ordered commando raids or drone strikes on “high-value targets.” In the case of Libya, he joined a NATO military campaign (which had been requested by the Arab League and authorized by the U.N. Security Council) but did not lead it. Rather, the United States focused on providing its “unique capabilities” to the warfront—especially drones (both for providing surveillance and dropping smart bombs), long-range airlift of supplies, and some on-the-ground intelligence assets. This is what some uncharitably called “leading from behind,” and it proved successful.