The quick arrival of British, French and Italian luminaries soon after Libyans seized Tripoli was seen as political grandstanding by the Europeans. True to a point, as Prime Minister David Cameron, of Britain, and President Nicolas Sarkozy, of France, hope voters smile on their nations’ success in backing Libyan rebels.
But while the United States was a significant player, as it usually is in NATO operations, the Europeans tended to take the lead in Libya’s unfolding drama.
That is not at all a slight for the United States. In fact, we’d call it a healthy development.
“For one thing, recognizing that not all roads must lead through Washington is the first step toward a new kind of international leadership that depends more on creating the conditions and coalitions for other nations to step up rather than trying to do everything ourselves,” observed Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor and former policy director at the State Department.
“For another, if we are less central to world affairs, we are also hated less,” she suggested in The New Republic. “We cannot be perceived as both irrelevant and the cause of every evil.”
It’s a great point, although it can be carried too far. There’s almost, in the wake of this generation’s Great Recession, a tone of isolationism that echoes that following the Great Depression of the 1930s. So any good idea can be carried too far.
And some people are so blinded by hate for America they will not recognize that the Britons or the Poles or the Germans are the prime movers in specific dramas in foreign affairs. The USA still will be the target of derogatory chants somewhere by angry mobs. But Slaughter’s main point is a fine one.
Tomorrow’s world has its challenges that must be met, and U.S. power is a key element in world order. But we need coalitions of the willing, and a willingness to step back from the leading role, to provide leadership in a different, more subtle way.