Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen legitimized the debunked right-wing claim that President Obama ceded leadership on Libya to other nations, choosing instead to “lead from behind.”
Cohen wrote that Obama egregiously lied in the third presidential debate when he suggested that “he had America take the lead in Libya” :
If, however you choose a president by [honesty] alone, then you have a tough time ahead of you. Both candidates lied.
Obama might have been the more egregious of the two. He strongly suggested that he had America take the lead in Libya, organizing the air campaign that brought down Moammar Gaddafi. In fact, the French took the lead and the United States followed, which gave rise the phrase “leading from behind” -- an indictable offense, if you ask me.
Cohen echoed a right-wing media claim based on a May New Yorker article examining President Obama's foreign policy record. In that article, Ryan Lizza quoted an unnamed Obama adviser who described the U.S. role during the successful campaign to oust former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi as “leading from behind.” Right-wing media figures have long claimed that quotation illustrated weakness in Obama's foreign policy.
But contrary to this claim from Cohen and the right-wing media, Lizza himself has said that the “leading from behind” phrase was not an expression of weakness by the Obama administration. Rather, the quote referred to the Obama administration's successful effort to lead “a coalition in the U.N. to get military authorization to topple Gadhafi.”
Lizza explained to a conservative activist:
So the quote actually is the opposite of what you are saying. It actually refers to the strategy that Obama used in the U.N. to get all of the nations 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.