Fighting Continues in Libya, but 'Post-Gadhafi Era Has Begun'

Rebel fighters walk along a residential street in the Libyan capital Tripoli, on August 22, 2011, as heavy fighting raged near the Tripoli compound of embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Mark Quarterman, senior adviser and director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, returned to update the situation in Libya.

Gadhafi's fall: Premature evaluation?

Rebels crowed, Obama spoke, Republicans reacted, and the world asked what would come next for a post-Gadhafi Libya. But was it all too soon?

A day later, initial reports that rebels controlled 85 percent of Tripoli appear overblown. Gadhafi's son Saif, thought to be in rebel custody, turns out to be free and defiant. And Moammar Gadhafi himself, thought to have fled the country, apparently remains holed up in the capital city. Mark Quarterman said there was probably a "miscalculation or a bit of exuberance" in assuming an end to the war, but there's no reversing the gains made by rebels at this point.

A regime like Gadhafi's doesn't just collapse and go away. It's clear they're continuing to fight, but also clear that they no longer control Libya; they might control a part of Tripoli, but that's it. The post-Gadhafi era in many ways has begun.

The case for 'leading from behind'

Appearing on Sean Hannity's show last night, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain took President Obama to task for his handling of Libya, saying, "Hats off to Prime Minister to Cameron, hats off to Sarkozy; they led in this effort. The United States, by President Obama's decision, wanted to follow from the rear,so he can't sit back now and claim 'look how well our strategy worked.'"

But where Cain saw a lack of leadership, Mark Quarterman saw a smart play. Europeans, he said, flew the "overwhelming bulk" of combat missions in Libya. The division of responsibility was fair, Quarterman argued, because Libya is of much greater strategic importance to European nations than it is to the United States; President Obama himself said that the country was not a vital interest of the US, which our military role reflected.

The 'leading from behind' isn't just a slogan; it's actually a rather deft way of ensuring that action happens, but ensuring that those who have the interest take action commensurate with their interest.