Right wing war hawks recently had some fun mocking part of President Obama’s theory of leadership which a top aide described as “leading from behind.” (Nelson Mandela also espoused this particular idea of leadership, although it’s unclear if these same war hawks mocked him for it as well.)
It’s also unclear what they found so wrong with this idea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, quoted in a recent New Yorker article analyzing Obama’s foreign policy, may have stumbled on the conundrum for the right. Referring to the situation in Libya, Clinton said, “[F]or those who want to see the United States always acting unilaterally, it’s not satisfying,” she said, “for the world we’re trying to build, where we have a lot of responsible actors who are willing to step up and lead, it is exactly what we should be doing.”
Put former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) in that camp. Pawlenty has been all over the airwaves recently attacking Obama on Libya and yesterday on a local Chicago radio show, the likely 2012 GOP presidential candidate straight up said that he opposes Obama’s multilateralism:
PAWLENTY: And then of course the president subordinated our decision-making interests in Libya to the United Nations. And I don’t think a president in our country should ever subordinate or decision making to the United Nations when it comes to the [inaudible] of our military. So, I think the better strategy would’ve been to do it quickly and decisively when that moment window of opportunity appeared.
If the United States went to war in Libya without international sanction, it would have absolutely no legitimacy and could quite possibly be considered illegal (see: Iraq, 2002-2003). But who was it that got the UN to agree to a resolution authorizing something stronger than a no-fly zone? The United States:
[T]he [U.S.] U.N. envoy quietly proposed transforming a tepid resolution for a no-fly zone into a permission for full-scale military intervention in Libya. Some officials thought it was a trick. Was it possible that the Americans were trying to make the military options appear so bleak that China and Russia would be sure to block action?
Gradually, it became clear that the U.S. was serious. Clinton spoke with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who had previously told her that Russia would “never never” support even a no-fly zone. The Russians agreed to abstain. Without the cover of the Russians, the Chinese almost never veto Security Council resolutions.
With U.S. leadership, the UN Security Council’s passage of the Libya resolution was the first time in 60 years the UN authorized military action to prevent an “imminent massacre.” “It was, by any objective standard, the most rapid multinational military response to an impending human rights crisis in history,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch.
And with the UN, the Arab League and NATO on board, the international community, not just the United States, is responsible for the outcome in Libya. That’s what Nelson Mandela called “leading from behind.” Perhaps for folks like Pawlenty, that just isn’t very satisfying.