Last week, right wing war hawks brought out the mockery brigade after the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza — in a lengthy piece about Obama’s foreign policy — quoted an anonymous Obama adviser describing the President’s action in Libya as “leading from behind.” “It’s just too easy to poke fun at the concept of ‘Leading from Behind,’” Michael Rubin said. John Podhoretz predicted that the term will damage Obama’s “chances for reelection” because it will be “thrown in his face.”
One interesting point about this whole saga is that former South African president and anti-Apartheid leader Nelson Mandela has advocated for this kind of leadership style. When ThinkProgress asked via Twitter AEI’s Danielle Pletka — who also mocked Obama’s “leading from behind” idea — what she thought of Mandela also espousing this concept, she didn’t have an answer: “Sorry really swamped,” was all she could muster.
Apparently, word about Mandela’s views on this leadership philosophy didn’t spread far in right-wing circles because both Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol subsequently joined the mock parade:
KRAUTHAMMER: Leading from behind is not leading. It is abdicating. It is also an oxymoron. Yet a sympathetic journalist, channeling an Obama adviser, elevates it to a doctrine. The president is no doubt flattered. The rest of us are merely stunned.
KRISTOL: Thank you for so boldly and visibly injecting into our politics the phrase “leading from behind.” Thank you for associating it with your boss. Thanks for confirming that our current president believes his task is to accommodate American decline. Thanks for reminding us how high a priority he places on appeasing those who revile us.
Aside from the fact that, as Lizza noted, Obama’s leading from behind strategy on Libya actually worked, Libya does not represent Obama’s entire foreign policy strategy. This is how Mandela once described leading from behind:
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
Enter news today that the President ordered a unilateral action to take out Osama bin Laden in a compound in Pakistan. Obama reportedly signed off on this raid without the knowledge or consent of NATO or the Pakistanis. Obama took “the front line when there is danger” in the case of killing bin Laden, and in Libya, he allowed NATO and other allies to take the lead — a perfect illustration of what Mandela was talking about. Nevertheless, right-wing war hawks will most likely continue to sneer at “leading from behind” despite its successes for the United States, and despite the fact that one of history’s greatest leaders also at times preferred to lead from behind.