Conservatives who are trying to make it seem like Obama doesn't deserve any praise over the events in Libya do have a point in saying that Obama did not lead on Libya. Britain's Prime Minister Cameron, and France's Prime Minister Sarkozy were the two driving forces behind the decision to help the uprising against Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
Obama even had administration officials come out with various arguments as to why we shouldn't get invoved in early weeks of the debate over whether we should intervene in some way. This is pretty standard practice for an administration when it is trying to figure out it's talking points. They send a few angles out to see how they play in the media and see what works, and what doesn't. In this case, they got a mixed bag of those who said we should not intervene, and those who said we should follow the lead of David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy, and help the Libyan rebels get out from underneath the tyranny of their long time dictator.
It would have been relatively easy for Obama to decide to sit this one out. He would have ticked off some of our NATO allies, but he would have placated the isolationists and doves in American politics, both from republicans and those in his own party. He could have said we're already taking on big military efforts, or said it's just not our responsibility. He could have come up with all sorts of excuses, but he ultimately chose to proceed with a limited support campaign.
So while he didn't have the foresight to lead on this, he did have the common sense to come down on the right side of history in the end. For that he deserves some praise. Ideally this will be followed by a NATO or UN led effort to help Libya rebuild and join the proper world community. As with the military effort, this should not be an undertaking we go into ourselves, but as part of a team of nations interested in the future of the Libyan people.
Those who think the world can be boiled down into simple black and white terms have been saying that, if we went into Libya, why aren't we in a handful of other countries where governments are cracking down on their citizens? China, for example, has a terrible example of cracking down on it's own citizens, much less in Syria, where the dictator there has been killing thousands and is under investigation by the UN for crimes against humanity.
But we don't live in a black and white world like that. We live in a world with limits, and endless shades of both grey and color. Intervening in Syria would have required direct engagement on the ground, not just air support and other forms of military and supply aid. In Libya we were able to help a nation free itself, with relatively little cost, no loss of life and with the potential for a major upside in diplomatic relations in the area in the future. Obama made the right call.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a former nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.