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White House sees vindication in Kadhafi downfall

24 august 2011, 11:05
For a White House battered by bad news, the eclipse of Colonel Kadhafi offers vindication for President Barack Obama's methodical, multilateral and heavily criticized Libya strategy, AFP reports.

But though it may blunt critics who mock the president for a "leading from behind" approach to the Arab Spring, the end of Kadhafi's rule may offer only fleeting political relief as Americans obsess over the economy.

Analysts also predict a new diplomatic minefield over how the United States and allies handle a dismembered nation where civil institutions were pulverized by Kadhafi and uncertainty clouds the political succession.

Obama's foes, like Republican Senator John McCain, complain he was a reluctant warrior in Libya and needlessly prolonged the agony by ceding frontline air operations to US allies.

But Obama aides argue that by using NATO to protect Libyan civilians and by giving various rebel groups time to coalesce, they allowed Libyans to liberate themselves and avoided any scent of Western meddling.

Obama also avoided any US military casualties and another military entanglement for the United States in a Muslim nation.

"We have provided time for the Libyan opposition to organize so, importantly, they were the ones that overthrew the Kadhafi regime," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor told AFP.

Now, Obama can argue he managed something no Republican president ever did: eliminating the threat from Kadhafi and Osama bin Laden, together responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans in terror attacks.

"The broadest impact will be on assessments of the president's leadership on national security," a senior US official said, citing the special forces raid that killed bin Laden, Libya, and the winding down of the Iraq war.

"I think that is going to be providing a very powerful case going forward," said the advisor, eyeing the 2012 election campaign at a time when Obama's political prospects have been hammered by the lagging economy.

But with America mired in 9.1 percent unemployment, stalked by fears of a new recession and with many people yet to feel the slow recovery Obama touts, national security is unlikely to be the key issue next year.

"Everyone in the United States wanted Kadhafi's departure, but this is not the focus of American attention," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The economy is, domestic issues are, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan are.

"One also has to remember that any euphoria at Kadhafi's departure is going to be somewhat temporary.

"When it comes down to the politics of the presidential campaign... this is not going to be a key factor in judging Obama."

With Kadhafi's personal fate uncertain, but with his regime shattered, Washington is looking to the future in Libya, concerned the trauma of a long dictatorship will make an easy transition impossible.

"True justice will not come from reprisals and violence; it will come from reconciliation and a Libya that allows its citizens to determine their own destiny," Obama said at his rented farm property in Martha's Vineyard Monday.

He vowed to stand with Libyans as they rebuild, and offered around 37 billion dollars in frozen Kadhafi regime assets for the effort.

Not everyone in Washington thinks he got Libya right.

"The question is at what cost did Obama's desire to lead from behind come?" said Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, using a quote first attributed to a senior Obama official by the New Yorker.

"Had the United States brought its full weight to bear, might the Libyans have avoided months of back-and-forth civil war, the destruction of infrastructure, and thousands of deaths?

"Sometimes in international relations, momentum matters and time has a cost."

But Obama aides argue the wave of change in the Middle East has been fast and sweeping.

"If you had been told nine months ago that the (ex-Tunisian president Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali, (ex Egyptian president) Hosni Mubarak and the Khadafi regime would all be history within the next year...," the senior official said.

The official also believed the fall of Kadhafi would reinvigorate the momentum of the Arab Spring.

Washington next hopes for a breakthrough in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has cracked down on demonstrators and flouted calls from the United States for him to step down.

By Stephen Collinson

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