The Realist Prism: Obama’s Post-Realist Turn in Libya

The Realist Prism: Obama’s Post-Realist Turn in Libya

As the Libya operation enters what appears to be its final phase, the debate is only beginning as to what it portends for the future of U.S. policy and the international system as a whole.

The course of events in Libya over the past months validates what I have termed the "just enough" doctrine. The Obama administration successfully resisted pressure -- from Libyan rebels, European allies and domestic critics alike -- to increase the U.S. role in order to achieve a faster outcome in Libya. If that doctrine takes on greater coherence, it could strengthen the arguments for limited, targeted assistance in other such situations. In other words, it may present a way to square the growing demands for fiscal austerity with the ongoing challenge of maintaining America's position as a global leader.

The Obama administration also appears to be embracing a "post-realist" phase, one where it believes that it is possible to uphold core U.S. values at minimal cost. After all, the Libya operation resulted in no American casualties, and, in the context of what has been spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has been relatively inexpensive. More significantly, little effort was put into painting Moammar Gadhafi as a security threat to the United States -- a charge that could only be justified by referring to Gadhafi's distant past and one that was undercut by the more recent history of Libyan-American rapprochement, including cooperation in the struggle against al-Qaida. Instead, over time, the Obama team embraced Gadhafi's treatment of his population as the central rationale for the operation.

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