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Moammar Khadafy's death vindicates Obama, but doesn't provide a model for other counties

Posted by Alan Wirzbicki  October 20, 2011 12:44 PM

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Former Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy has reportedly been killed in his hometown of Surt, the final act in the uprising against him. That is surely wonderful news for the people of Libya, ruled by Khadafy for 42 years. But it doesn't mean that the strategy embraced by the Obama administration and its allies amounts to a new doctrine that's transferable to other parts of the world.

The administration's strategy was to "lead from behind," letting allies like France and Britain take a more visible political and diplomatic role while quietly providing the decisive military support. It was a decision that reflected the American public's general lack of interest in foreign entanglements, and the enthusiasm of Mediterranean nations to take charge.

There is no question that Khadafy's fall is a vindication for the administration, which suffered bipartisan critiques for their engagement and the legal reasoning behind it.

But Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain — other countries in the throes of a popular uprisings — are far different cases, and the approach that worked in Libya would be far more difficult elsewhere. Simply put, no one outside Libya cared whether Khadafy lived or died; he was left with no allies, with only his sons to defend his reign. An isolated tyrant, combined with a popular uprising and willing foreign partners, formed a perfect combination to make NATO’s mission — and ours — successful. Even with this ideal situation, toppling Khadafy took months, and these conditions aren't likely to occur again.

None of the other countries experiencing unrest are as disconnected from the rest of the world, and in all of them regional dynamics play a far bigger role. Syria counts Iran as an ally, and Saudi Arabia is a supporter of Bahrain's monarchy. As I’ve noted before, the dynamics of the Arab Spring are not simply about the quest for freedom. Throughout this year, the drama that has unfolded across the Arab world has been as much a pseudo Cold War between Saudi Arabia and Iran, as they jostle to exert influence in the region.

A Sunni monarchy against Iranian Shia influence is as much the narrative of the Arab Spring as the uprisings in Tahrir Square. That dynamic didn't apply to Libya, though, just as the Libyan dynamic doesn't apply to the rest of the Arab world. There is meaning in Khadafy's death today — but it is meaning for the Libyan people only.

AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert: Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy in 2010.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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