By CNN’s Adam Levine
Moammar Gadhafi is defeated, the last of Libya’s cities are under rebel control, and NATO is seeking to ends its involvement by the end of the month.
The Obama administration is touting the Libya mission as a model of success, one in which the U.S. supports a mission but lets others, in this case NATO and the Libyan rebels, take the lead. Or, as they are calling it in Washington, “leading from behind.”
"This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past," Vice President Joe Biden told a crowd in New Hampshire on Thursday. "This is an example of how the world is beginning to work together a little bit better. A lot of problems out there, but this is what’s going on.
"We don't have to do it ourselves," Biden told CNN's Candy Crowley in an interview to air Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
"The NATO alliance worked like it was designed to do: burden sharing," Biden said. "No American lives lost.
Biden said the Libya mission contrasts with other NATO missions where the U.S. has really carried the burden, like Afghanistan.
A former top aide to the NATO secretary-general said the mission proved that the U.S. does not have to take the lead.
"European partners stepped up to the plate, showing NATO works, and also showed the alliance is effective in including air partners in this operation, a key ingredient to success," said Damon Wilson, now executive vice president at the Atlantic Council think tank.
However, as effective as the mission was, Wilson said it isn't necessarily a solution for other conflict areas. Libya had specific circumstances, including an Arab League request for international help, strong support in the U.N. Security Council and leadership from the French president and British prime minister.
"I don't think Libya offers a neat model how this will play out in the rest of the Middle East," Wilson said, but it does show leaders in countries like Syria and Yemen that they can negotiate a handing-off of authority "or they may face a more bleak future."
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said Friday that the whole conflict could have ended much earlier had the U.S. taken a stronger role.
"If we'd used the full weight of American air power, we wouldn't have the thousands of dead and wounded," the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee told CNN's “American Morning.”
The Libya situation was a confluence of events that made “leading from behind” easier for the U.S., said James Carafano, defense expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"We can do that in a situation like this because you don't really have a dog in the fight. The U.S. didn't have a significant security interest in Libya," Carafano said Friday. "It's like leading from behind in your friend's divorce."
The U.S. certainly took the lead at the outset before it handed control to NATO and had to provide significant support including refueling, intelligence assets and even missiles to strapped partners. With all that expense - more than a billion dollars spent by the U.S. - Carafano said that things would have become trickier if the British and French disagreed on how to handle the mission.
"We had a situation where the U.S. was paying for everything and the U.S. liked what they were doing. Well, how often does that happen?" Carafano asked.
Carafano said that for the all the talk about a new model, it really is the same approach the U.S. took at the outset of the Afghanistan war.
"When you strip all the politics out of this, what is the difference between what we did here and what we did inAfghanistan in the first phase?" Carafano observed. "The answer is kind of not much. The difference is the amount of NATO involvement up front."