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Joel Rubin Headshot

Obama's Libya Leadership Vindicated

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President Obama's critics are on the verge of witnessing a third major Obama success in the Arab world in 2011.

First, longtime Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak was deposed after Obama refused to support him against the Egyptian people at the moment of truth. Second, Osama bin Laden, America's archenemy #1, was killed by Navy SEALS on direct orders from Obama in a risky cross-border raid into Pakistan. And now, Muammar Gaddafi -- a man whose presence on the international stage has mocked any reasonable definition of sanity for more than four decades -- is about to be knocked out of power by an international coalition in which Obama ensured that the U.S. played a leading team role.

It's time for Obama's neoconservative critics to acknowledge his leadership success on foreign policy, especially on Libya.

Why? Because Obama has done what his most ardent foreign policy critics have failed to do: he has ushered in a new era in the Arab world by supporting its organic democracy movements while also aggressively pursuing terrorists. This is foreign policy leadership, Obama style, and it works for American national security.

Why? Because unlike his harshest critics, Obama actually understands that you don't promote democracy by invading other countries. The Libyan rebel movement is only six months old, and Obama led an international coalition, with the direct support of the Arab League and the United Nations, to protect Libyan civilians. He then moved the policy forward by keeping up the military pressure on Gaddafi by sending in drones and supporting airstrikes to degrade the Libyan military, all the while patiently ensuring that the Libyan rebel movement was given the diplomatic support it needed to begin to create its own institutions.

Why? Because the United States accomplished these successes and advanced our countries' interests without either losing one American life or getting entangled in another Middle Eastern quagmire.

This is what infuriates Obama's neoconservative critics and prevents them from acknowledging his effectiveness. Not only did they fail to achieve the level of success in the Arab world that Obama has, but they also witnessed Obama triumphs on issues that they held dear -- democracy in the Arab world and counterterrorism -- for decades.

Obama has succeeded where the neoconservatives have failed, and it drives them crazy.

What Obama's neoconservative critics on Libya also failed to understand is that Obama's leadership on Libya was aggressive, but unlike theirs, which called for American boots on the ground, was smart, realistic, and patient. A touch of humility and an understanding of the proper usage of American power is what is making this policy work and now the Libyan rebels, when finished, will own their victory.

There will certainly be tough days ahead for Libya; the dust is not yet settled on this drama. But it is clear that the rebels are in charge, that we are not stuck in a quagmire, and that the Arab revolutions will continue -- all with the U.S. as an ally.

This is true leadership, Obama style, and it's time for his critics to acknowledge his -- and our -- success.

This piece originally appeared in Politico's "The Arena" page.