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For a change, the U.S. isn't the first in line to save the world

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For a change, the U.S. isn't the first in line to save the world

Joshua Greenman

Sunday, March 20th 2011, 4:00 AM

President Barack Obama pauses during a statement on the ongoing developments in Libya while visiting Brasilia, Brazil, Saturday afternoon.
 
Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama pauses during a statement on the ongoing developments in Libya while visiting Brasilia, Brazil, Saturday afternoon.
 
 
The likes of Newt Gingrich, who apparently learned nothing during eight years of George W. Bush, have been attacking the Obama administration for failing to take the lead on ousting Moammar Khadafy in Libya.

To them, it's the end of American preeminence in the world. The irony is rich.

Just a few years ago, conservatives bemoaned the fact that European countries weren't meeting their international security commitments ("Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus," said one) and routinely mocked the U.N. for failing to act.

Now, many seem miffed that the Security Council got its act together, and France is the first country to send planes into Libya.

They apparently would have preferred instant, unilateral military action. American war in a third Muslim country? Just another day at the Oval Office.

The way things have unfolded is cause for celebration, even if it comes a few days later than would have been ideal. The unified front - which includes not only western countries but also the Arab League - is worth the delay.

Yes, the Obama administration had mixed feelings, with its most conservative, military-minded cabinet member, Robert Gates, expressing deep reservations about the risks of cavalier action.

So what? Sometimes ambivalence is healthy. These kinds of interventions are politically and militarily complex, and the mission is still not clearly defined: Are we taking out Khadafy or just boxing him in?

While U.S. involvement is indispensable, it's not paramount we always be at the head of the line. Every now and then it's better that we're not.

Remember - unlike Afghanistan, this is not linked to the terrorist attacks on America. Unlike Iraq, there are no claims about weapons of mass destruction.

It's hard to make the case we're defending vital American interests.

And though we know Khadafy is awful, we don't know exactly who these rebels are and what they might bring.

Finally, there's this: We've got a stretched military and massive budget deficits at home (as Republicans correctly remind us at every turn). Military intervention costs blood and treasure.

So don't be bitter or sad that for once, America wasn't the first one flexing its muscle. Learn to take yes for an answer. Watch the French planes soaring over Libya and say: merci beaucoup, mon ami.

Entry #4,176

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