One of the more sadly amusing spectacles of the American-European-Arab dance over Libya is the complete and utter role-reversal that has taken place. Indeed, the Europeans are leading; the Americans are following; and the Arabs are applauding — publicly!
French jets are the ones now spearheading the attack on Gaddafi’s forces in Libya. American pilots, meanwhile (despite some late-breaking exceptions) mostly are sitting on their hands. As GOP strategist Patrick Ruffini quipped on Twitter, “In times like these, we look to France for leadership.”
Whoa! What happened?
Well, despite everything that you heard when George W. Bush was president, the fact is that the “international community” does, indeed, look to the United States for leadership. And when such leadership is lacking, or not forthcoming, the “international community” starts to worry.
This seems to be what has happened re Libya.
On March 3, Obama said that Gaddafi “needs to step down from power and leave.” He then did… nothing. Libya, apparently, was not “our problem.”
Gaddafi’s mercenary army then proceeded to route the rebel forces, and the Arab League got worried. Sane and moderate Arab leaders, after all, have no use for Gaddafi, whom they not-so-secretly loathe and fear.
So the Arab League did something that I’m not sure it has ever done: It urged the United Nations to take military action against a fellow Arab country. It voted for U.N. enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya.
Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron (both not coincidentally, political conservatives) got spooked. Libya, after all, is in their backyard. And Gaddafi, albeit neutered in recent years, has been an historic and long-time terrorist sponsor.
Ultimately, then, everyone was urging the United States to act and to lead. And so, as I reported here at the American Spectator, Obama reluctantly agreed to support a no-fly zone — so long, it seems, as the French and the British spearheaded the operation.
Do our allies miss George W. Bush’s “cowboy diplomacy”? They’d never admit it (at least not publicly), but I rather think that’s the case. After all, as much as the Europeans and the Arabs love to whine about us, the truth is they need us — and they know it.
Indeed, as a frustrated Simon Tisdall wrote last week in the English newspaper, The Guardian: “No one wants to act without the U.S… The EU’s pretensions to act as an independent global power once again [have been] cruelly exposed.”
Tisdall may have spoken too soon. French jets, after all, are now at the tip of the spear in Libya; and America, for the most part, has been put to sea — literally. It seems that all it took to unify Europe and to stiffen the European spine was a weak and dithering American president. And if that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.