Jonah Goldberg, writing on National Review, gives voice to what I take to be a fear on the right — that if the Libya mission works, Obama will get credit for it:
Lastly, what’s most infuriating is that if this ends “well” — say Qaddafi is killed by one of his own men in the next couple days or the rebels manage to assassinate him, or he flees to Venezuela, whatever — you know that Obama will take credit for leading this successful mission and he will be praised for his “leadership” by many of the same people who are now pretending they believe this fiction that NATO has taken over.
Kevin Drum has a good rejoinder:
It’s no surprise that conservatives are upset that Obama is taking the back seat in a military operation — even rhetorically — and allowing our allies take the lead. Given their peculiar worldview in which America is required to assert its superiority at all times and in all places, this is plainly intolerable regardless of whether or not it makes sense. Goldberg, in fact, views it as almost self-evidently impossible for someone else to be in charge.
But as bad as this is, what’s even worse is the possibility that it might work: it’s entirely possible that Qaddafi will leave or be defeated and that the rebels will win a victory that’s not viewed as merely another case of American imperialism run amuck...Obama is taking the risk that a limited military operation in Libya can succeed in the short term if American arms are brought to bear, and can also succeed in the long term as long as American arms and American interests aren’t viewed by the Arab world as the prime motivation for action.
In addition to this, what we’re really seeing revealed here is that all the current attacks on Obama’s lack of leadership are partly about laying the groundwork to deny Obama credit should this mission succeed. For many conservatives, helping organize a multilateral response, as Obama has done here, by definition can’t constitute true American leadership as conservatives envision it ideally playing out on the global stage. Therefore, even if this mission works, Obama’s leadership can’t possibly have been responsible for it, because by definition he never showed any. Success must not be seen as vindication for Obama’s multilateral approach. Rather, the mission will have succeeded in spite of it.
Meanwhile, if the mission doesn’t work — which is perfectly possible, of course, given its widely-pointed-out flaws — Obama’s lack of leadership and weak-kneed insistence on multilateralism will be entirely to blame. Get the game?
UPDATE: In contrast to Goldberg, here’s Bill Kristol admonishing conservatives to “give war a chance,” and to support Obama and hope his approach succeeds:
Don’t revel in every administration misstep. Don’t chortle at every misstatement. Don’t exacerbate the administration’s failure to build domestic support for the mission. Put the mission, and the country, first.
Which means, to some extent, that we might consider biting our collective tongues, wishing the president well because he is our president, and helping him get it right rather than pointing with glee to everything he’s doing wrong. Which in turn means that we might want to cool it with the 24/7 criticism.