Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Obama and Libya: Hold the Triumphalism, Please

by Elliott Abrams
October 22, 2011

After the death of Muammar al Gaddafi, Administration spokesmen and those journalists who pretty much take dictation from them have been triumphant. This was, they have said, final proof of the exquisite brilliance of Obama policy in Libya (despite the “howling” of critics, to quote David Ignatius).

I would hold off on the triumphalism, for the Obama approach had many flaws.

The limitations imposed on the use of American military power lengthened the Libyan internal conflict. The Transitional National Council estimated a total of twenty-five thousand dead and sixty thousand wounded. Had we acted faster and not restricted the American role, those numbers would be smaller—perhaps far smaller, and the damage to Libya’s infrastructure also smaller. And had we used more air power to end the war faster, in weeks instead of months, perhaps the Libyan regime’s arsenals, including the extremely dangerous MANPAD shoulder-launched missiles, could have been captured intact. Instead, stolen Libyan weaponry will present a threat for years to come.

Those limitations on the use of American power also shook NATO. NATO is an alliance always led by the United States, which is why its commander is always an American. When the United States backs away from leadership (the phrase “leading from behind” became famous during the Libya conflict), our allies question our broader commitment to NATO. They wonder how we will approach the next crisis and whether we will lead “from behind” or indeed not at all. These questions are asked not only by NATO allies but by others whose security is linked to our willingness to act. Arab interlocutors with whom I have spoken have said that the American approach in Libya shook their faith that we would ever protect them from Iran. (The Administration’s reaction to the Iranian terrorist plot that might have blown up a restaurant in downtown Washington will, of course, add to those doubts.)

Then there was the Administration’s handling of the War Powers Act. Hostilities in Libya required a firm stand: was the act constitutional or did it too greatly limit presidential power? The Administration refused to protect presidential powers and instead presented the nonsensical argument that what we saw in Libya were not hostilities at all.

Any administration would be claiming success for its policies after the demise of Gaddafi, but the Obama spokesmen appear to believe they have devised a brilliant formula here that eliminated all problems and achieved every goal at almost no cost. The record suggests that is wrong: it can be argued this excellent outcome might have been achieved with far less death and damage in Libya, and far less damage to the faith of friends and allies in our commitment to their security.



Post a Comment 30 Comments

  • Posted by Dan Friedman

    Funny, but our host steers clear of the real reason to “hold the triumphalism.” Namely, there’s a pretty good chance the regime that replaces Qaddafi could be as bad or worse.

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    For the Obama Administration to take credit for Gaddafi’s fall and NATO’s success is like the Bat-Boy taking the credit when the Yankees win The World Series .

  • Posted by Laura

    There is also the small matter of the thousands of weapons that have gone missing…

  • Posted by Jeremy Poll

    That was very badly needed info for me, thank you. I am getting ready for my medical admin role and I wishto learn as much as possible about everything related to it.

  • Posted by hf

    I wonder if anyone has any idea of the subject matter.

    Brain dead

  • Posted by Charles Edward Frith (@charlesfrith)

    Notice the triumphalism has accelerated since this article was posted.

  • Posted by netfirms coupons

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this blog. I am hoping the same high-grade blog post from you in the upcoming also. In fact your creative writing skills has inspired me to get my own website now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a good example of it.

  • Posted by Donovan Clukies

    Many thanks for an unbelievable submit, will examine one’s others posts. thanks for your ideas for this, I felt a bit struck by this text. Merit again! You earn a great point. Got some wonderful report here. I do think that when more people thought of it like this, they’d have got a better time obtain the suspend ofing the issue.

  • Posted by Lauren Hoefle

    Many thanks for an incredible submit, would examine your others content. thank you your ideas with this, I soon became somewhat strike by this short article. Thanks again! You wanna make an excellent moment. Got some excellent facts here. I feel that in case more people thought about it doing this, they’d possess a better time period get the hold ofing the issue.

  • Posted by home development

    I do not drop a ton of comments, however i did some searching and wound up here Pressure Points » Obama and Libya: Hold the Triumphalism, Please. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s allright. Is it simply me or does it look like some of these comments look like they are coming from brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are posting at other sites, I would like to follow anything new you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of your communal pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    From Elliott Abrams:
    Thanks, but in fact this is it. I have no other appearance in social media like Linked In or Facebook, nor do I tweet.

  • Posted by Check Backgrounds Online

    Discovered your write-up incredibly fascinating in truth. I truly experienced examining it so you make quite some fantastic details. I am going to bookmark this website to the potential! Relly fantastic post.

  • Posted by Electrician NY

    Discovered your short article very appealing certainly. I actually appreciated examining it and also you make pretty some excellent factors. I will bookmark this web-site with the long term! Relly wonderful write-up.

  • Posted by Send Flowers Online from Ripley Group

    Discovered your report very appealing certainly. I definitely really enjoyed examining it and you simply make really some superior points. I’ll bookmark this web-site for that foreseeable future! Relly terrific short article.

  • Posted by domain

    Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering
    if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite
    some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience
    with something like this. Please let me know if you
    run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  • Posted by Carolee Gambrel

    Some really prize blog posts on this internet site , saved to my bookmarks .

  • Posted by visit this site

    Just desire to say your article is as surprising. The clearness in your post is just cool and i can assume you are an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the rewarding work.

  • Posted by Adelaide Ritch

    I truly wanted to post a quick message in order to thank you for all of the awesome guides you are giving out on this website. My extensive internet search has finally been paid with sensible information to talk about with my colleagues. I ‘d state that that we site visitors are undeniably fortunate to dwell in a notable community with many perfect individuals with beneficial points. I feel truly privileged to have discovered your weblog and look forward to so many more pleasurable moments reading here. Thank you again for all the details.

  • Posted by Romantic Getaways

    Hello.This post was extremely motivating, especially since I was looking for thoughts on this subject last Wednesday.

  • Posted by Family Room

    A lot of thanks for all your hard work on this web page. My mum take interest in setting aside time for internet research and it is obvious why. Almost all learn all about the powerful way you create helpful tricks via your website and therefore improve participation from other ones on this concern then my princess is certainly being taught a whole lot. Enjoy the rest of the new year. You’re the one doing a dazzling job.

  • Posted by Stafford

    There was no link to learn more about Muammar al Gaddafi. Learn who he was, etc. @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muammar_Gaddafi

  • Posted by Session Initiation Protocol

    Thanks for all of the work on this website. Gloria enjoys doing internet research and it’s really easy to understand why. My partner and i know all regarding the compelling mode you make functional tips and hints by means of your blog and attract participation from visitors about this area plus our princess is undoubtedly understanding so much. Take advantage of the rest of the new year. You are always carrying out a glorious job.

  • Posted by read more here

    Very interesting blog. Alot of blogs I see these days don’t really provide anything that I’m interested in, but I’m most definately interested in this one. Just thought that I would post and let you know.

  • Posted by Carbon Cells

    Unquestionably believe that which you said. Your favorite reason seemed to be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I certainly get irked while people consider worries that they plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side effect , people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  • Posted by technology

    naturally like your website however you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the reality on the other hand I¡¦ll definitely come again again.

  • Posted by airlines

    Thanks , I’ve just been looking for information about this topic for a long time and yours is the best I’ve came upon so far. However, what concerning the conclusion? Are you certain in regards to the source?

  • Posted by luxury furniture

    As a Newbie, I am continuously exploring online for articles that can benefit me. Thank you

  • Posted by Law & Legal

    Definitely, what a fantastic blog and instructive posts, I will bookmark your site.All the Best!

  • Posted by education

    Whats up very cool blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Wonderful .. I’ll bookmark your web site and take the feeds additionally¡KI’m glad to search out numerous useful information right here within the post, we need develop more strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  • Posted by Ductless ac contractor

    “Great, thanks for sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Want more.”

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required