In the run-up to Western military intervention in Libya, the Obama administration has ceded leadership on the issue to strong proponents, especially France and Britain and the Arab League. The administration did not push the Arab League to request a no-fly zone, nor did it twist the arms of the Russians and Chinese to approve one.
Now Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the United States will soon cede command of the military operation to allied countries and take a less preeminent role in its execution. The question of who will take the lead over the operation, however, remains unclear. Gates has suggested France and Britain might do the honors, while others have proposed that the operation be run under the aegis of NATO, despite the public reluctance of key member nations such as Germany and Turkey.
The question we would like National Journal experts to consider is this: What does this uncertainty about leadership and ownership suggest about the likely success or failure of Operation Odyssey Dawn? Is there any historical precedent for the United States playing second banana in such a military coalition of the willing? Do Britain and France have the wherewithal to lead such an operation, militarily and politically, or would they just offer cover for behind-the-scenes U.S. leadership? Can a clearly divided NATO alliance offer effective leadership, especially given the desire not to give the operation a "Western brand"? Does the lack of certain U.S. leadership increase or lessen the risk of "mission creep"? With so much of the credibility of the Western alliance now on the line, will the United States inevitably have to step in and take the reins if the operation stalls? In general, what are the pros and cons of such a fluid leadership situation in an ongoing military operation?