Leading From Behind in Libya’s Aftermath: Sharia Law and Al-Qaeda’s Flag

Will leading from behind be lauded by the left if Libya turns hostile?

Leading From Behind in Libya's Aftermath: Sharia Law and Al-Qaeda's Flag
The main courthouse in Benghazi, Libya, where in the top center Al-Qaeda’s flag flies high.

During an interview with the New Yorker earlier this year, one of President Obama’s advisers uttered the phrase “leading from behind” while describing the administration’s approach to foreign policy. From there, it took its own course and while the right had fun poking at the phrase and the docile tendencies implied, the left seemed more than welcome to the idea and its idiom.

In Libya, we led from behind for a number of reasons, namely that if American troops had gone in to kill Gaddafi, the international community would have almost certainly disapproved. It would have stoked the charges that we, without much acumen, are the world’s police force, adding to the “shoot first, ask questions later” vibe that has permeated our post-9/11 foreign policy.

Yet the world expects it of us, for better or worse.

“If you really parse all the messages that were being sent over the last several weeks on Libya,” said Hillary Clinton on the morning of the security council’s vote to use force in Libya, “they were all over the place: ‘Somebody needs to do something, but the United States shouldn’t do it unilaterally.’ ‘The United States should do something, but don’t bomb anybody.'”

Well, along with NATO we bombed them. The rebels killed Gaddafi themselves (a crucial detail for the history books). Now, Libya has a massive “What next?” to figure out. There is the question of how to redistribute the massive fortune left by the deceased dictator, and many more fundamental questions.

For the last 42 years things were decided from the top down, and now the populace — many of whom have never voted — are faced with a challenge.

This has led to what is making “leading from behind” suddenly seem like a sticky strategy. Fundamental changes have occurred since Gaddafi’s death eight days ago. Shar??ah law is now in place, which means discrimination against women, Islamic banking law, which prohibits banks from earning interest, and a host of other measures large and small.

“Any law that violates sharia is null and void legally,” said interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Sunday. He then cited an example of restrictions on polygamy, which, for his evil, Gaddafi’s regime is responsible for passing.

If this is the course the Libyan populace chooses, then more power to them. Our lead from behind approach translates to letting Libya decide this matter for itself, but don’t think the Obama administration isn’t anxious about this and other, more startling, developments.

A disturbing new report from Libya holds that Al-Qaeda’s flag is now flying next to the Libyan one at the courthouse in Benghazi where the revolution began. (There are multiple pictures that support this claim.) The flag’s message, “There is no God but Allah,” is definitively not copacetic with the American government.

There is no indication that Libya is okay with this flag, just that it was there and that the guard in front of the building was sympathetic to its message and placement.

Yahoo news reports that “Libya’s Islamists are a rising force in the country’s political arena, some of whom, such as Abdelhakim Belhaj, the founder of the Al-Qaeda linked but now-disbanded Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), are expected to hold prominent positions.”

It wasn’t Obama’s adviser, nor Obama, who first used to phrase “lead from behind.” Nelson Mandela said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

But will people appreciate our leadership if Libya becomes a fundamentalist state anchored against the west? If there is another dictator who makes things worse than before?

In this case, it might look imprudent on our part. Yet freedom means the freedom to discriminate and make mistakes.