by Xinhua writer Yi Aijun
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- When Libya's long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi was ousted and killed in October under the cover of NATO air raids, the mission was touted as a success of the Obama administration's strategy of "leading from behind."
For all it is, the approach is seen as a one-off deal not expected to be repeated in other places.
"MUDDIED THE WATERS"
For U.S. President Barack Obama, facing an uphill struggle for re-election in 2012 and two costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq he inherited from a Republican administration, a third full-fledged war in Libya went against his stomach.
His then Defense Secretary Robert Gates made public as well his opposition to intervention in another Arab country.
For days starting on March 19, however, Obama ordered a series of air strikes against Gaddafi's forces to establish a no-fly zone, throwing his weight behind a UN Security Council resolution that made the military action possible.
There were voices within the administration calling for U.S. intervention on humanitarian grounds, as well as pressure from the European countries to intervene.
"The Obama administration could have chosen to resist that pressure, instead they chose to intervene," said Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Washington-base think tank Cato Institute.
"I think they allow themselves to be drawn into this conflict," he told Xinhua.
"The truth is there are always people pressuring the United States or the U.S. administration to intervene in places all the time, and the question is what criteria the president uses to differentiate when he will choose to intervene and when he will choose not to," he said.
"And I don't think those criterion are clear at all. I think the Obama administration by its actions has, as we say, muddied the waters, has not clarified what the appropriate criterions are," he added.
After initially taking the lead in the military campaign, Obama handed over command to NATO on March 31 and took a back seat, offering instead support like refueling, intelligence, surveillance and even missiles to cash-strapped partners who were carrying out bombing missions up front.
This is the first time since the Cold War that the United States neither exercised leadership nor fully shared risks in a war in which it was otherwise participating.
The U.S. declining power and popularity in the world, as a result of a confluence of factors from invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the economic crisis, has made the Obama administration turn to multilateral and regional organizations as well as allies and partners to address global challenges.
"The NATO alliance worked like it was designed to do: burden sharing," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in October as the Libyan conflict was drawing to a close.
At a moment of fiscal obsession, the conflict cost the United States less than 2 billion U.S. dollars, or the equivalent of a few days of involvement in Afghanistan, less than those spent by Britain and France, who spearheaded the NATO-led mission.
What's more, no single life was lost on the part of the coalition, though the U.S. refusal to contribute more firepower was blamed for a protracted conflict that had led to more deaths on the Libyan side.
Biden hailed the Libyan mission as a model of success, saying "This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past. This is an example of how the world is beginning to work together a little bit better."
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen also called the operation "a successful chapter in NATO's history."