Aug 242011
Authors: Jesse Benn

As Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year-rule of Libya comes to an end, the U.S., under the leadership of Barack Obama, has provided the first example of what military intervention should look like in the 21st century.

Without putting the lives of U.S. service members at risk, a massacre in Benghazi was stopped, a tide was turned and an unorganized group of ragtag rebels was able to come together to set their country free.

After a decade spent bogged down in Afghanistan, and almost as many years fighting an insurgency in Iraq, Obama found little support from a war- weary citizenry to engage U.S. forces in Libya.

Despite this, the president stepped up to the plate and did the right thing – committing U.S. military support.

At the time, I had the opportunity to cover these events as a reporter for our very own Collegian. In doing so I met several students with family all across Libya, from Benghazi to Tripoli. Speaking to them made it clear to me that we were doing the right thing – thousands would have been massacred if we hadn’t intervened, they told me.

At the same time they were all adamant that the U.S. should only play a supportive role, with no troops on the ground. When I pressed them on this, I was told that even if it meant more Libyan casualties and a slower overthrow of Gadhafi, it was important that Libyans were in control of their own destiny.

And so Obama committed some military support, through NATO, with the support of the Arab League, and the bombs and cruise missiles flew, saving an unknowable, but substantial number of innocent Libyans.

Then the U.S. backed off. We “led from behind” as the administration put it, infuriating the right, who seem to prefer the go-it alone, cowboy-like antics of Dubya.

Now here we are, a few months later, watching images on the news of Libyan rebels celebrating as they take their country back. (Like really take it back, not like the tea party’s hyperbolic use of the phrase.)

What will come next in Libya is impossible to know. One thing that is for sure, though, is that with no history of democracy and 42 years squandered under a repressive dictatorship, they face a long, tough road ahead.

The good news for Americans is that our engagement in Libya, our strategy of leading from behind, of leveling the playing field instead of taking it over, has not left the U.S. bound to the “you break it you buy it” policy.

Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. remains entangled in the messy business of nation building, Libyans owned their revolution, and now Libyans will own their rebuilding. This doesn’t mean the U.S. shouldn’t provide support to this newly reborn nation; we should, but it does mean we won’t be held accountable for its success.

What started as a mission with limited scope and commitment will now continue as such. And if we are honest with ourselves, doesn’t that feel a lot better than the weight of building a democratic Iraq? Or a stable Afghanistan?

At the start of Libya’s civil war, or perhaps what they’ll call their revolutionary war, Obama had a few key options.

He could have done nothing and allowed Gadhafi to stop the pro-democracy uprising in its tracks, slaughtering thousands along the way. He could have done more, committing troops and essentially fighting the revolution for the Libyans. And he could have done what he did, providing some military and logistical support, but taking a backseat to the role of both the Libyan rebels and NATO.

Now it’s unclear what the president’s critics would have done had it been up to them. (That’s the beauty of being in the opposition, because you can just say the other guy’s idea is wrong without the risk of presenting your own.) But as Gadhafi falls, and Obama’s strategy is validated, I can’t help but wonder (not really, just sarcastically wonder) when we will hear his critics give him the credit he’s due.

So Michele Bachman, Fox News (yeah, the whole thing), El Rushbo, Krauthammer et al., let’s hear it: Obama was right.

The administration’s strategy in Libya was spot- on and successful. And Obama won’t even need a “mission accomplished” banner to prove it.

This is how the U.S. military ought to be used in the 2000s – with a humanitarian intent, as a last resort, at the behest of the global community and in a joint effort through international coalitions like NATO and the U.N.

This wasn’t a concession of U.S. power; it was its most effective possible use. And as we look forward to the next millennium of conflict, we should take note of the example set by the Obama administration in Libya.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who always clips his fingernails on his left hand before his right. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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