President Obama’s decision to order the strike on bin Laden also required courage; not the bravery of the battlefield but the courage to live with the consequences of a risky decision. Since the mission went well, he is being justly praised, and his political standing has risen. But there can never be a guarantee that a mission of this kind will not go tragically wrong. We are all the beneficiaries of Obama’s decision, but in the end the buck stops at one man’s desk.
For some reason, the president has so far held back from other decisions that would involve no risk to American lives but that could save the lives of Libyans that we have committed to protect—like recognizing the provisional government in Benghazi, providing them with military assistance, shutting down the propaganda broadcasts of the Gaddafi regime. None of these actions would guarantee an opposition victory, but they would reduce the risks of a prolonged stalemate that would cost more Libyan lives and increase the risk that the U.S. would eventually be drawn in deeper than we need to be. For the sake of the Libyan people and for America’s reputation in the Arab world, one has to hope that President Obama has learned the value of boldness.