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Former Obama adviser says president 'vindicated' on Libya strategy

August 22, 2011|By Peter Nicholas
(SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images )

Moammar Kadafi’s fall from power would be a vindication of the Obama administration’s strategy in Libya after the president endured months of criticism for “leading from behind” and letting European allies take a more upfront role in fighting Kadafi’s forces, a former adviser to Obama said.

“The administration is entirely vindicated,’’ said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution who has advised three presidents on the Middle East and south Asia. “They said from the beginning that the primary actor here needed to be the Libyans and they weren’t going to put boots on the ground.’’

After briefly taking the primary role in establishing a no-fly zone in March to suppress Kadafi’s air defenses, the U.S. stepped back and let the Europeans “be the lead element,’’ Riedel said.

Obama’s strategy was quickly declared a failure by his Republican critics, who said the U.S. was guilty of doing too little, too late to topple Kadafi.

“A lot of naysayers said we’d end up with a quagmire or stalemate,” Riedel said. “Today, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The administration will rightly say their approach turned out to be a better estimate of the balance of forces in Libya than many pundits thought.’’

By virtue of the administration’s strategy,  ensuring a peaceful post-Kadafi future is not the sole responsibility of the U.S., Riedel said. Other European countries now have a larger stake in the next phase of the Libyan story.

“The Obama administration from the beginning has wisely seen this as not America’s baby to solve. Frankly, there are others who have much greater equities here. Most Libyan oil and natural gas is sold in Europe – not the U.S. It’s Italy and France that have the biggest interest in stabilizing this area.’’

That wasn’t the case in the Iraq war, which was orchestrated by the George W. Bush administration.

By taking a subordinate role in the Libyan conflict, the U.S. did not “turn it into an American problem – another situation like Iraq where we’re trying to clean up the pieces all by ourselves,’’ Riedel said.



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