As Moammar Gadhafi’s regime takes its last gasps in Libya, the Obama Administration is close to celebrating its third major foreign policy victory this year. In February, the United States’ refusal to support Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak greatly contributed to his downfall. In May, Navy SEALs crossed the Pakistani border on direct orders from the President and killed Osama bin Laden. In August, Gadhafi is finally being removed from power thanks to the efforts of a multilateral coalition in which the United States played a pivotal role. The Obama Administration’s foreign policy doctrine, which has linked these three successes together, is a radical and successful diversion from that of George W. Bush, even if some vestiges of that era — like the prison at Guantanamo Bay — remain.
According to Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes, the mission in Libya reflects the Obama Administration’s preference for a “multilateral and light-footed approach to regime change.” In an interview with Foreign Policy, Rhodes stated that the Administration believes that “it’s far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers.” Rhodes also highlighted the importance of multilateralism, which ensured that “the U.S. wasn’t bearing the brunt of the burden” in Libya.
Foreign policy expert Joe Cirincione expanded on these comments, coming up with this explanation for Obama’s foreign policy:
“The Obama Doctrine is one guided by universal compliance with democratic norms and the rule of law; policies driven by the convergence of shared interests and responsibilities; and a statecraft that does not shirk from the application of military force when necessary but promotes America’s interests, with respect for other nations and the strength of joint enterprise.”
This doctrine was well reflected by the successful missions in Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan. The United States’ actions in Libya were legitimized internationally by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 and the support of the Arab League, and the Americans relied on burden-sharing within the NATO coalition. In Egypt, the U.S. refused to intervene directly, leaving the revolution in the hands of Egypt’s indigenous political movement. In Pakistan, when the use of military force was necessary to promote America’s interests, President Obama did not hesitate to deploy Navy SEALs to kill bin Laden.
The end result has been a great success. Moammar Gadhafi, who has brutally repressed his own people while supporting terrorist groups around the world, has finally been deposed after 40 years. Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship is in the process of being replaced by a government that reflects the will of the Egyptian people — or at least we hope so. America’s public enemy No. 1 has finally been killed, dealing a crippling blow to Al-Qaeda. Not a single American soldier has been killed in these missions. The effort in Libya cost the United States around $1 billion (compared to trillions in initial spending and long-term obligations from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) and our involvement in Egypt and Pakistan cost significantly less. The only question left is, can the United States do it again?
Fareed Zakaria argues that they can, and that the liberation of Libya represents the dawn of a new era in U.S. foreign policy.
“In the future, we will again have to follow this limited model of intervention. The United States is not going to have the kind of defense budget nor the national will to engage in a series of major military operations in countries that are, frankly, not vital to our national interests.”
Rhodes largely agrees with Zakaria; although he doesn’t believe that the United States can apply the exact same approach that it took in Libya to intervention in other countries, he stressed that the two principles of burden-sharing and relying on local forces would be “characteristics of how the President approaches foreign policy and military intervention” in the future.
As the United States begins to ramp up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down, it will be interesting to see whether it again tries to “lead from behind,” convincing its allies to join in supporting the revolutionaries. No matter what happens there, however, President Obama has had a wildly successful 2011 in the international sphere. It is a bright spot in a presidency so dominated by bad economic news.