'Obama Doctrine,' NATO Strengthened by Gadhafi Downfall

PHOTO: President Barack Obama shakes hands with military officials after speaking about US and NATO involvement in military action against Libya on March 28, 2011.
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When President Obama announced military intervention in Libya in March, he was criticized by liberals for injecting the United States into a third war, and by conservatives for doing it too slowly.

As the mission dragged on, from "days and weeks" to months, the bipartisan criticism only grew, with charges that Obama was "leading from behind" and violating the War Powers Act in the process.

Now, the impending downfall of Moammar Gadhafi brings one of Obama's key foreign policy objectives closer to fulfillment, and signals that the president's strategy was at least partly a success.

"As of today, I think it is a partial vindication of the so-called Obama Doctrine, at least for certain kinds of cases," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military and foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.

Obama had justified limited, pre-emptive U.S. military action in Libya as part a broad "international mandate for action" and compelling humanitarian interest to prevent "violence on a horrific scale," all while not requiring formal congressional approval. He charted a course for greater U.S. support for multinational action instead of isolationism or unilateral force.

"The robust leadership of the president is pretty clear here," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "and had a tangible impact on the outcome in Libya."

But the administration should avoid a victory lap too soon, foreign policy experts warn, with Gadhafi's whereabouts still unknown and the transition to new government in Libya in flux.

"Obama hasn't yet proven that he's going to avoid the problem George Bush faced in Iraq: the problem of catastrophic success," O'Hanlon said. "We should all be a little chastened by the example of 2003 in Iraq and any feeling of triumphalism just because the bad guy falls. We've seen what follows."

Two months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush delivered a speech claiming victory in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime. Eight years after that moment -- what has become known as his "mission accomplished" speech -- the war still lingers.

"The danger is that we will have another 'Mission Accomplished' moment, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy, NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen, President Obama, and their various pro-intervention advisers give each other a lot of high-fives, utter solemn words about having vindicated the new 'Responsibility to Protect' doctrine, and then turn to some new set of problems while Libya deteriorates," Harvard University professor Stephen M. Walt said in a blog post on ForeignPolicy.com.

Speaking from his seaside compound on Martha's Vineyard, Obama offered reassurances that NATO allies would not abandon Libya but instead remain "a friend and a partner," continuing military and diplomatic ties to "safeguard" the Libyan people.

Meanwhile, conservative critics of Obama insist the ouster of Gadhafi had little to do with U.S. strategy at all, voicing renewed concerns that the administration might bungle the transition.

"If the post-war process mimics the war-fighting process, in which we have a pretty strong disconnect between the outcome we want and the means we're willing to deploy to achieve the outcome, I think there's reason to still be skeptical," said Tom Donnelly, a military and foreign policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

"It could have been done quicker, better, faster and with less killing," he said.

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