Thursday, January 31, 2013

Obama administration learns that ‘leading from behind’ is the right place for the U.S.

I wish whomever coined the term of "leading from behind" had not done so.    It does much damage to the concept of helping friends, partners, and allies to conduct their fight against lawlessness, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism.  Why are there those that want to automatically default to the US having to take the lead?  But "leading from behind" may go down in history as one of the more damage foreign policy phrases.  I know some smart guy in the administration thought it up and it sounded good for a minute and even may have looked good on a power point chart but it has damaged the ability to be flexible in foreign policy and security strategy because of partisan attacks on the use of the phrase.  Does anyone argue that sometimes it is not better to help friends, partners and allies in their fights or do we think we must always be in the lead and (try to) solve every problem in the world with US military power?

Obama administration learns that ‘leading from behind’ is the right place for the U.S.
By Walter Pincus, Published: January 30
If Mali is any example, “leading from behind” is the right policy choice for the United States to follow in most of today’s international confrontations with what is now termed “terrorism.”

The Obama administration’s actions in the past months reflect it has learned some hard lessons from the United States’ 11 years fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The wars have cost the nation 6,300 U.S. lives, 50,300 casualties among American service personnel and about $1.3 trillion.
What’s one lesson?

“The best-intentioned foreign intervention is bound to bog its armies down in endless wars fighting invisible enemies to help ungrateful locals,” as the Economist magazine frankly wrote in its Jan. 26 issue.

Sound familiar?

How about what then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told West Point cadets almost two years ago: “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”

On Tuesday night, former secretary of state George P. Shultz, in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations here in Washington, put it this way: “Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be the template for how we go about” dealing with threats of terrorism.

The Obama refinement to such intervention may be to provide intelligence and logistic support to those deserving such help and capable of receiving it. But the lead for using combat troops, “boots on the ground,” should be taken by those whose vital interests are directly involved — starting with the host government. Next should be neighboring countries. In the best of circumstances, they would be banded together in regional organizations, and, if possible, with authorization from the United Nations.

If the situation requires U.S. diplomacy to facilitate such collaboration and authority, fine. That is where the world’s greatest power should take the lead. If more hawkish Americans want to call this “leading from behind,” then that’s all right, too. Finally, when outside ground forces from a major power are required, it should come from a nation with historic roots in the host country.

France is a good example. It stepped up and took the lead by going into Mali, a former colony, in response to the Bamako government’s call for help. Another example is the international cooperation on the oceans off Somalia that has successfully been dealing with the piracy problem.
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