- By Peter FeaverPeter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.
Josh Rogin has a fascinating interview with White House national security communicator Ben Rhodes elsewhere on this site. To my eyes, it reads like the Obama Administration is continuing its unseemly end-zone dance of celebration over the toppling of Qaddafi. I understand their desire to get maximum credit while avoiding a "mission accomplished" photo-op that will come back to haunt them, and so far sympathetic reporters are obliging by reporting the braggadocio without editorializing about it much. But this interview dances close to the line of generating some "audio ops" that they may regret.
First, I am not sure that Rhodes has threaded the needle in terms of both taking credit for the things the administration did, without which this regime change would not have happened, and convincingly eschewing responsibility for whatever bad things happen from this point out. Rhodes tries to persuade the interviewer that there are only upsides to Obama’s approach when in reality there are pros and cons. One of the cons is that the administration bears more responsibility for what happens next than it is willing to admit, while having less leverage over what happens next than it is willing to admit. In the long run, it may be the case that the pros will outweigh the cons in Libya, but there is a substantial amount of territory to cover between now and then and it is premature to declare this the model for all future operations. (By the way, I wish Rogin had asked Rhodes the obvious follow-up question: does this mean that the Obama Administration endorses the Doug Feith plan of light-footprint regime change in Iraq using Iraqi expats and rejects the conventional critique which holds that the Iraq operation unraveled because there were insufficient troops in the coalition invasion force and they did not establish sufficient order in the aftermath?)
Second, Rhodes continues a longstanding Democrat slur against the several dozen allies who fought, bled, and died at the American side in Afghanistan and Iraq:
Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn’t bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions.
If I were a parent or loved one of any of the hundreds of allied soldiers who died — according to iCasualties.org, some 179 UK troops alone in Iraq and 379 UK troops in Afghanistan — the crack about "meaningful international contributions" would greatly anger me. In any case, it seems in exceptionally bad taste. I have never understood why Bush critics have gotten away with denigrating the contributions of allies in those two wars. Now that the critics are in office and directly responsible for maintaining good relations with our allies, I wish they would find more opportunities to praise the sacrifices that the allies made and make fewer derogatory comments about those coalition efforts.