Kagan: NATO ‘saved the people of Libya and kept alive the momentum of the Arab Spring’

A rebel fighter in Regdalen, August 28, 2011

From Robert Kagan, the Weekly Standard:  There is much to criticize in the way NATO handled the operations. The Libyan intervention was certainly not the death knell for the alliance, as some have suggested, but neither was it a sign of great strength and vitality.

What is unquestionable, however, is that NATO stepped forward at a critical moment and turned the tide. The simple fact is that without NATO’s armed intervention, including nearly 8,000 strike sorties, the insertion of special forces, and the provision of military assistance to the rebels, Qaddafi would have succeeded in crushing the rebellion and massacring thousands if not tens of thousands of men, women, and children.

By intervening, with force, the NATO alliance not only saved the people of Libya and kept alive the momentum of the Arab Spring. The alliance also demonstrated, at a time when such demonstration is sorely needed, that the world’s great democracies are not enfeebled, ineffective, disunited, and in a state of terminal decline. They are, in fact, powerful, capable of acting in unison, and, most important, still committed to acting in the world on behalf of their interests and their ideals. That they succeeded in helping to topple Qaddafi, despite having tied at least one hand behind their own backs, shows that there is still life in those old bones. Just imagine if the democracies had come with their A game—that is, with the full power of the United States.

Still, the end of Qaddafi’s rule is a great accomplishment for the Obama administration and for the president personally. It is a shame that some administration officials are trying to downplay the role of the United States in this whole affair, absurdly trying to turn the “leading from behind” gaffe into a kind of Obama doctrine. In fact, the United States was not “leading from behind.” By far the most important decision taken by any world leader in this entire episode—the decision that made all the difference—was President Obama’s decision that the United States and the world could not stand by and see the people of Benghazi massacred.

That American choice was the turning point. All praise to France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron for being ahead of the president in seeing the need for armed action—just as Margaret Thatcher was ahead of George H.W. Bush in seeing the need for action against Saddam Hussein in 1990. But here is the plain and critical truth of the matter: None of this could have been done without the United States leading the way.  (photo: Getty)

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