New Yorker's Lizza Debunks Right-Wing Media's "Leading From Behind" Lie


New Yorker columnist and White House correspondent Ryan Lizza corrected the often-repeated right-wing media claim that President Obama has a policy of "leading from behind."

On CNN's Starting Point, tea party spokeswoman Amy Kremer referred to the claim that Obama supposedly has a weak stance foreign policy by agreeing that she thought the president was "leading from behind." 

Kremer was echoing a pervasive right-wing media fallacy that is repeated even now, and has become the title of a book by conservative commentator Richard Miniter. The right-wing media claim has also been picked up by leading Republicans.

However, as Lizza explained on CNN this morning, contrary to the right-wing media narrative, the quote was not an admission that Obama has a weak foreign policy. Lizza explained that he had written the article that contained the "leading from behind" quote, which actually refers to the Obama administration's successful effort to lead "a coalition in the U.N. to get military authorization to topple Gadhafi."

Lizza continued: "So the quote actually is the opposite" of how it has been interpreted. It "actually refers to the strategy that Obama used in the U.N. to support the U.S.' use of force resolution, because after the Bush years it was really hard for the U.S. to go to the U.N. and get support for the use of force because Bush was really, really unpopular."

Lizza's explanation is in line with his previous attempts to clear up the meaning of the "lead from behind" quote.

As Lizza has noted, the phrase originated with Nelson Mandela and refers to a strategy of privately steering a third party to act on one's behalf. In the context of the quote, Obama encouraged other nations to push for a military intervention against Muammar Gadhafi in Libya to avoid the possibility that other nations would reject such an intervention if it was perceived to be American-backed. 

Lizza has said:

Frankly, what Obama did was a massive bait and switch. He used the Arab League's support for a no-fly zone to win United Nations support for a far larger military intervention. The debate about the merits of this style of leadership should also take into account what was accomplished.

The disappointing part of the Starting Point exchange is that it shows just how effective the right-wing media echo chamber has been at turning an uncontroversial quote by an anonymous Obama aide into an indictment of Obama's entire foreign policy.

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