Advancing a Free Society

Leading Like 1939

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Even for an Administration that takes an awful lot of unearned credit, yesterday’s op-ed by Obama National Security Advisor was amazing.  Tom Donilon’s piece in the Washington Post sets a new standard for self-congratulatory delusion.  It asserts that in Libya, the Administration brilliantly led allies and built broad-based international consensus on a multilateral, shared-burden campaign that burnished America’s reputation and established the model for future efforts.

Allies are irritated to hear this from an Administration that came late to the coalition and grudgingly offered marginal help -- not enough to win, mind you, only enough to prevent allied forces from losing -- while publicly berating those countries who bore the real risks  for not doing more.

I’ve been at a conference on transatlantic relations, where European policymakers and scholars were derisive about the Obama Administration’s claims.  Daniel Korski from the European Council on Foreign Relations put it most acidulously: “America led in Libya the way America led in World War II from 1939 to 1941.” 

Europeans serious-minded about national security issues are deeply worried that the Obama Administration has made it more difficult for allied governments to build public support for future operations, and for the long-term investments in defense capabilities that facilitate governments deciding to use military force to achieve national objectives. 

The fundamental incongruity of Obama Administration “strategy” is that it relies on others to do the hard work while diminishing their incentives to do so.  If the U.S. is going to take all the credit, let them do all the work, is what allies are grumbling.  At a time when sharing the burden of solving international problems is at a premium for the United States, this is no way to get others to step forward.