Abe Greenwald says a lot of untrue things about the “reset” here, but then he outdoes himself with an even sillier complaint:
The reset must be coupled with the Obama administration’s Libyan lead-from-behind strategy to see the dimensions of the corner we’re in regarding Syria. Would Assad be so comfortable with wholesale butchery in service of regime survival if America had led from the front in Libya? If Obama had given Muammar Qaddafi a short deadline to step down and then unapologetically led an international coalition in a short and devastating mission when he refused? If an American presence remained in Libya to track weapons, money, and terrorists? If Obama then made a credible statement that the United States would not fence-sit while anti-democratic rulers kill their people?
Let’s take these questions in order. Would Assad be willing to slaughter people to retain power if the U.S. had been even more involved in the Libyan war than it already was? Er, yes. Assad’s willingness to kill people to stay in power does not depend on whether the U.S. leads from “the front” or “behind” in an unrelated war in another country. I can’t believe this needs to be said.
Some advocates for intervention in Libya floated the implausible idea that supporting Gaddafi’s opponents would deter other authoritarian regimes from using force against their own people. That didn’t happen, and it was a bad assumption from the beginning. It is even less plausible that Assad would be less inclined to use force against his domestic opponents if the U.S. had been more assertive in claiming “leadership” in the Libyan war. If it hasn’t become clear yet, it didn’t matter to Assad how the U.S. waged war in Libya.
Insofar as the Libyan intervention taxed the resources of the participating European governments and exhausted any remaining American appetite for wars of choice, the decision to intervene in Libya made it a little easier for Assad to act with impunity. Even so, there was never any desire on the part of the U.S. and NATO for a Syrian war, so this didn’t make much difference. If the U.S. had invaded Libya with a ground force and still had soldiers there as Greenwald suggests, there would be even less support for intervention in Syria than there is today, and Assad would be facing even less international pressure than he is now. “Leading from behind” was a foolish way to describe the U.S. role in the Libyan war, and the phrase has deservedly received a lot of mockery, but its effects were limited to the prosecution of the Libyan war and the war’s effects on Libya.