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"Libya: A Case Study on 'Leading from Behind'"

Prime Minister David Cameron addresses the crowds in Victory Square, Benghazi, as French President Nicholas Sarkozy (center left) looks on, Sep. 15, 2011.
AP Photo

"Libya: A Case Study on 'Leading from Behind'"

GLOBAL Public Square


October 20, 2011

Author: Juliette Kayyem, Belfer Lecturer in Inernational Security, Harvard Kennedy School

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security


Even before confirmation of Gadhafi's death, the conventional wisdom had already taken form. First, that this was a success, albeit a delayed one, for the Obama Administration's "leading from behind" strategy.  This was always a NATO effort, with strong French accents, and one which we would support but not manage.  The fact that Obama  was in Brazil when the mission started had symbolic meaning: the U.S. did not own this.

Second, that while Gadhafi's death is an important milestone for closure, the challenges for Libya will endure. It is a nation with almost no civil society to rely on, and rebels who are hardly unified.

But the challenges with conventional wisdom is that it has a tendency to turn into yet another  cliche:  a "best practice."  Libya is a case study of ONE.  Only one.  It had a perfect combination of indigenous uprising so that NATO and other powers would not be the face of the mission; more importantly, though, Gadhafi had no backers, no friends, no country invested in his leadership.  This is not Syria where Iran serves as the silent (or not so silent) partner; this is not Bahrain where Saudi Arabia has drawn a line in the sand.  NATO, the Arabs and the international community could support the Libyan rebels because there was no counterweight.  That is not true anywhere else in the Arab world. This is a case study on leading from behind, but not a new international doctrine.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Juliette Kayyem.


For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Kayyem, Juliette. "Libya: A Case Study on 'Leading from Behind'.", October 20, 2011.

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