We led from behind!

Six months later, as Libyans rejoice at the prospect of a world without an unhinged despot, many of Obama’s critics still view a President who rid the world of Osama bin Laden (something that George Bush failed to do) and helped bring down Muammar Qaddafi (something that Ronald Reagan failed to do) as supinely selling out American power. Yet the Administration’s policies—a more apt description, admittedly, would have been “leading from behind the scenes”—were tailored to limiting circumstances. To review the facts: When the Tunis- and Cairo-inspired uprising in Libya began, last February, the United States was still at war in two Muslim countries and was regarded with deep mistrust throughout the region. Moreover, the U.S. military was overextended, which is why Defense Secretary Robert Gates opposed any involvement…

With what results? There are no sure outcomes in foreign policy, only a calculation of consequences, guided by an appraisal of national interests and values. The trouble with so much of the conservative critique of Obama’s foreign policy is that it cares less about outcomes than about the assertion of America’s power and the affirmation of its glory. In the case of Libya, Obama led from a place of no glory, and, in the eyes of his critics, no results could ever vindicate such a strategy. Yet a calculated modesty can augment a nation’s true influence. Obama would not be the first statesman to realize that it can be easier to win if you don’t need to trumpet your victory.