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Obama agenda: Looking to hand off

The New York Times editorial page thanks French President Sarkozy for taking the lead last week in pushing for action on Libya, but now tells him to take a step back: “NATO leadership best serves American interests. The United States took the lead in knocking out Libyan air defenses. That made sense because it alone has the cruise missiles for the job. Now the Obama administration rightly wants to hand off military leadership to its NATO partners. Mr. Sarkozy would do himself, and the Libyan democratic cause he supports, a big favor by smoothing the path to NATO leadership.”

The Times’ Kristof makes this point: “Doubts are reverberating across America about the military intervention in Libya. Those questions are legitimate, and the uncertainties are huge. But let’s not forget that a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted for now and that this intervention looks much less like the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the successful 1991 gulf war to rescue Kuwait from Iraqi military occupation. This is also one of the few times in history when outside forces have intervened militarily to save the lives of citizens from their government. More commonly, we wring our hands for years as victims are massacred, and then, when it is too late, earnestly declare: ‘Never again.’”

“President Obama returned to Washington and a political storm on Wednesday over the military campaign in Libya,” The Hill writes. “Five days into a mission that started while Obama was out of the country on a trip to Latin America, the criticism of the White House’s handling of the Libyan crisis reached a new peak as military leaders hedged on when the U.S. would transition leadership to its allies.”

Politico: “Returning to Washington Wednesday after a tour of South America, President Obama encountered a perhaps familiar pattern from his five days overseas: his decision to launch a ‘no-fly zone’ to protect Libya’s pro-democracy rebellion trumped the trade and diplomatic accomplishments of the trip.”

Republican criticism of President Obama as aloof and indecisive didn’t start with just Libya, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne writes. His reluctance to get into the fray of, as Dionne puts it, “Washington-style conflict,” has been the top strategy for Republicans looking to criticize the president since the 2010 elections.

The Treasury Department had said it hoped to snag $100 million or perhaps more in frozen Libyan assets. But they announced last week that the windfall was in excess of $29.7 billion, “a piece of extraordinary good fortune for the Obama administration at a crucial moment in the efforts to address the bizarre and deadly events unfolding in Libya,” according to the Washington Post.

Arriving in Cairo yesterday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sought to quell Egyptian fears that the fighting in Libya would not spill over the border, the Washington Post writes. And when asked about the military support of other Arab countries, Gates referred indirectly to Qatar, the only Arab country that has thus far committed fighter jets to the region. “’At least one country is participating, but I don’t know if they’ve announced it yet, so I’m hesitant to do so myself,’ he said in response to a reporter’s query about Arab members of the military coalition. ‘A number are providing support and assistance, for example, overflight rights and access and so on.’”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also defended the Obama administration’s actions in Libya, telling reporters in Washington, “Many, many Libyans are safer today because the international community took action,” Politico notes.