By Clive Crook
President Barack Obama was not in
This is not the kind of leadership the world is used to. On the other hand it is the posture much of the world, the part enraptured by Mr Obama’s election, said it wanted. Now we have it, we shall see how long it lasts and how well it works.
As you would expect, US foreign-policy hawks are unimpressed. They say Mr Obama dithered. While the allies built their coalition and won their UN resolution, Col Gaddafi gained the upper hand. If his forces mingle with civilians in
It is one thing to hear these arguments from American hawks. If necessary, when vital interests are at stake, they want the
Not long ago,
Both kinds of critic –
Europeans say better
Moreover, even if the
Unfortunately, the price of multilateralism is not confined to initial delay. It is hard to fight by committee, especially when every tactic is examined for political salience. So much has been made of this feat of co-operation that the coalition must be maintained at all cost. Suppose the fight is tougher than the allies expect. Will they agree on how or whether to escalate? Arab League support has been emphasised at every turn. Does this give it a veto over the campaign? That would be awkward since its chief on Sunday said the air strikes were not what it had envisaged.
In short, unilateralist scepticism is well grounded. Yet the advantages of full-compliance multilateralism are, even from the narrow American point of view, appealing. Legitimacy in the eyes of other nations has value in a world where soft power counts. In Libya the allies are doing the right thing and, let us hope, winning friends – while the breadth of the alliance, the authority of the UN and the US posture of “third among equals” refute the accusation that America has opened a new front against Islam. In fiscally straitened times, greater burden-sharing in global security is all to the good.
It would be hard to exaggerate how much rides on the outcome. Even if the Libyan regime crumples, there will be times when the allies regret their ownership of the consequences. Still, if all goes well, Col Gaddafi will exit, peace will be restored and
One imponderable, oddly neglected up to now, is the view of US voters. The mood has been against
He had a meeting in