With Qaddafi on the ropes, we should now focus on bringing down the last anti-American Arab tyrant. Assad’s fall will show that the Arab Spring could not be defeated by shooting peaceful demonstrators, and would mean the huge strategic gain for the United States of depriving Hamas of its headquarters and above all depriving Iran of its only Arab ally, its Mediterranean ports in Syria, and its border with Israel via Hezbollah.
This should all be obvious, and few Americans outside the most orthodox Realpolitikers will lament Assad’s passing. The real debate will be over whether the fall of Qaddafi vindicates Obama’s policy. It does not. The question was never whether the United States, EU, NATO, Arab League, U.N. Security Council, and African Union could together using economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and military attacks bring Qaddafi down. The question was always how much time, how much blood, and what damage to NATO.
Had the White House acted sooner and more resolutely Qaddafi could have been brought down sooner, and with fewer Libyan deaths. Moreover, the lingering damage to NATO could have been avoided. Next time the United States wants NATO to act, how will our European allies react? They will wonder whether this president will jump in and then jump back, will provide American military power and then withdraw some of it, as the A-10s were pulled back from the fray in Libya at an early point. They will wonder whether “leading from behind” is very different from refusing to lead even when the United States has military assets in theater that no other NATO country can supply. After all, Libya was close to NATO’s bases in Italy; it was, as these things go, an easy one. If the next one is harder, will NATO function at all?
So the certain drumbeat from the White House and its supporters — “this shows how wise the president has been” — should be rejected. Winning in the end is great, and it sure beats losing. Winning sooner and smarter, winning with your alliances intact, would be far better.