Saturday 19 March 2011

Why is America taking a back seat with Libya?

Earlier today I was putting together a few thoughts on the Libyian crisis, particularly America’s more restrained stance on events.

There’s been some major developments this evening. French planes have taken military action against Gadddafi’s forces, following yesterday’s UN resolution to impose a no fly zone in the country.

Despite tonight’s events they’re not going to change my original thoughts.

In the last few days we’ve seen the international community come together to confront Colonel Gaddafi, but it’s been France and Britain that’s lead they way in reaching a UN agreement rather than America. Although America’s been involved, they haven’t been leading from the front in a way that we’ve become used to.

Earlier in the week I thought Obama was being too quiet on the Libyan crisis, he wasn’t showing enough leadership. However, I’ve begun to discover this might be a deliberate policy.

Under George Bush, America led the way in unpopular conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving the US deeply unpopular amongst many people around the world. I get the impression this is something that Obama wants to avoid at all costs.

Do we want America to always step up and take the lead in international events, or is it better that America occasionally steps back and lets others take on the responsibility?

Obama’s got a difficult balancing act to undertake. By allowing other nations to take the lead it could make him and America appear weak and indecisive. On the other hand I can understand the reluctance by some in the Obama administration to take a more low key role.

One of the problems with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is this: They were seen by many countries around the world as being exclusively US lead, with limited or no backing from the international community. Whether you agree with the rights and wrongs of those conflicts, America’s image suffered.

I can understand America’s reluctance to get involved in another Arab/Middle Eastern conflict. I also think that since Obama came to power there’s a different mindset at the White House.

Under Obama, America don’t always want to be seen as the country that automatically takes the lead when it comes to major international conflicts. If others can step forward then it looks better not only for America but for those countries who want to step forward.

Britain and France have pushed for the UN resolution and from a PR point of view its been great for David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Cameron seems to have 'arrived' as an international statesman and it's been a boost to Sarkozy's image in France.

Of course this is more than a PR exercise. Cameron and Sarkozy have managed to get UN backing and the support of other Middle Eastern leaders. It does send out a very different message to the rest of the world; one that says this is a joint international response, not lead exclusively by America.

America’s in a difficult position. On the one hand many people automatically look to the US to take an international lead, but many of us also complain when we feel that America is being too dominant and pursuing its own interests at the expense of the views of the rest of the international community. They can’t win.

It’s ridiculous to think America wouldn't have any involvement with the situation in Libya, but it’s been interesting looking at this different approach under Obama to that of his predecessor George Bush.

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