Defensive NPR Host: Obama Wasn't 'Leading from Behind' in Libya, But 'From the Middle'
On Friday's edition of the talk show Tell Me More on NPR, host Michel Martin invited former Obama aide Corey Ealons to toot a horn for Obama on the death of Moammar Qadhafi. Martin wanted Obama to be described by non-insulting terms, asking Ealon: "Is that the Obama doctrine? The notion of -- I don't want to say 'leading from behind' because I don't think that's accurate...But leading from the middle. Or what would you say? It's rather than, you know, sort of the leader of the charge or the orchestrator in charge."
Ealons had just uncorked several paragraphs of Obama trash talk about how much more effective Obama was in Libya than George W. Bush was in Iraq, which clearly avoids what may come next:
EALONS: It has to be said, though, that this is what George W. Bush thought he was going to get when he invaded Iraq back in 2003. He thought that he was going to be able to charge into Baghdad and have the type of resolution that we've seen in just eight months under President Obama's leadership.
So here's the point. The point is Obama ultimately showed incredible restraint and very sound judgment in how he involved the United States in that mission. No boots on the ground, just as he promised. Less than $2 billion spent. That's extraordinary at the end of the day. And he allowed the United States to be an active partner with NATO in executing this mission. Ultimately, that's important.
Here's how Ealons answered the "leading from the middle" question:
EALONS: There is something to be said about the strength of American fire power. The strength of the American Armed Forces - that's to be sure. But there's a time for us to withdraw – to the draw the sword and there's a time to sheath it. And this president appreciates what it means when you deploy troops. You also have to appreciate he understands, we were engaged in two wars already, so we really didn't have the resources to commit to Libya. But ultimately, I think what drove his thinking on this and ultimately his decisions, is we need to be partners with NATO again. I think that's the Obama Doctrine. And ultimately, the Libyan people need to decide when this happens and how it happens. And that's - so I think it is in part an American victory.
Ealons was appearing in the talk show's regular "Shop Talk" segment with other regular guests, like columnist Ruben Navarrette, who was taking a more anti-Obama position -- which Martin wasn't liking.
NAVARRETTE: Here, thank you for that word from the Democratic National Committee, but let me instill something here....Here we go. The Obama Doctrine is real simple: I claim credit when things go right. I pass blame when things go wrong. The idea of we, I think, would correctly, you know, pushing back on the idea of we. The people who are at the tip of the spear on the we, it really merits saying are the Libyan people. And the...
EALONS: That's what I just said. I just said that - the freedom fighters.
NAVARRETTE: Well, the freedom fighters, while Obama and to some degree, other countries around the world, other leaders around the world watch from the stands because they didn't want to get down on the ground, boots on the ground – as you said – and get their hands dirty.
Martin took exception to the idea that air power wasn't force.
NAVARRETTE: There's nothing wrong with air power. But, you know, if you study all the various wars we've been engaged in - the wars around the world, there's a difference - and throughout history - there's a difference between air power and boots on the ground. And Arsalan pointed that out. I mean there's a world of difference between a Seal team going into a building, at personal risk to themselves, going after Osama bin Laden - and kudos to them - versus and air...
MARTIN: What's wrong with bring ambivalent about - what's wrong about...
NAVARRETTE: ...an air strike.
MARTIN: ...being ambivalent about using military force against another sovereign country, Ruben? Let me ask you, what is wrong with ambivalence...
NAVARRETTE: I think this...
MARTIN: ...when it comes to risking people's lives?
Then Navarette whacked the idea that liberals want to be pacifists, but cheer when their party leader gets a military victory:
NAVARRETTE: It sounds like you're making the argument for why the ambivalence is there. I mean, you have it on the left and you have among supporters of Obama a really a paradox here, because they want to on the one hand go back to their Pacifist non-violent roots to say that they're really suspicious of the use of military power against a foreign nation. And at the other time, they want to applaud when something like this happens for their guy. It's very - it's contradictory. It's hard to, for you guys to sort that all out. But let me tell what I...
MARTIN: What a minute. What about the - there's no isolationism within the Republican Party? I'm sorry. I'm confused.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah. And we put the...
MARTIN: Didn't we go to the same college and study history together? I'm sorry.
NAVARRETTE: I think those people should be put out where Ron Paul is and that's on the radical fringe of the party. I don't think that isolationism works for Republicans or Democrats. But to your point about use of military power, if this is, you know, if this is D-Day or this is World War II and you're going after someone like Adolph Hitler, I think that if you're protecting the world from genocide or mass murder, I think that use of force is very appropriate no matter who the president is. And my only problem here is not that Osama bin Laden met his end of that Gadhafi met his end but rather the tap dance that supporters of Obama have had to play to somehow be in favor of pacifism but then cheer when somebody gets knocked off.
MARTIN: I've never seen -- Corey, correct me if I'm wrong, has this president ever presented himself as a pacifist?
EALONS: Absolutely not. I mean lets be very clear, this is the guy who got Osama bin Laden and made the very direct call to use the tactics that he did to take him out.
MARTIN: But more to the point, isn't this the person who used the Nobel Peace ceremony to...
MARTIN: ...articulate a doctrine for the use of force?
MARTIN: And besides, just some – just, but, okay.
NAVARRETTE: Absolutely. That's right.
MARTIN: But I get your point, Ruben. I think I understand what you're trying to say.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah. This is a...
MARTIN: If you're just...
NAVARRETTE: This is a quite a death toll for the Nobel Prize Peace winner.