When he talks about the rest of the world needing to "pony up" and stop being "free-riders" on the (former) U.S. security umbrella, he's not talking about the same thing that we do when we say that:
Jeffrey Goldberg, who conducted the interview, said [Obama] was especially perturbed when the New Yorker reported, citing an anonymous administration official, that the White House was “leading from behind” amid the Libya crisis of 2011.
“We don’t have to always be the ones who are up front,” Obama told Goldberg, the magazine’s national correspondent. “Sometimes we’re going to get what we want precisely because we are sharing in the agenda. The irony is that it was precisely in order to prevent the Europeans and the Arab states from holding our coats while we did all the fighting that we, by design, insisted” they lead during the mission to oust longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. “It was part of the anti-free rider campaign.”
Idiocy and hypocrisy and a result that discredits the very concept of national defense and national interest. First of all, yes, we DO have to "be the ones who are up front," because there's nobody else who can - could - do it. The United States emerged from World War II as the benevolent global superpower. Europe lay in ruins. What became our NATO allies were not capable of shouldering their share of the cost of their national and collective defense for a generation, particularly given the presence on their geostrategic doorsteps of the malevolent global superpower that threatened them all AND us, the Empire of Soviet Socialist Republics.
After European countries regained the economic means of pulling their own defense weight, it still wasn't enough to offset massive Soviet conventional and nuclear military power. So their dependence upon the U.S. security umbrella remained as a matter of practical necessity.
After Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, that multi-generation paradigm was entrenched in European political culture, long since having, in their minds, freed them up to indulge their resources in the same sort of statist nonsense that has fatally infected us over the past eight years. Should we have withdrawn from Europe after the Evil Empire was no more? It's debatable; there was no longer a huge enemy threatening them and the entire planet anymore, so from a practical standpoint, we could have redeployed our military resources elsewhere. But physical withdrawal also means the removal of our influence; who knows in what ideological or strategic direction an America-less European Union would have gone? Especially in the current context of its "Eurabianization"? That's an argument for retaining a foothold on the Continent.
We, in other words, do need to be the ones up front, if for no other reason than the principle of "If you want something done right, do it yourself." Which brings us back to Operation "Lead From Behind," an illegal and strategically disastrous act of aggression that toppled a former enemy - our old friend the colonel - who had already capitulated on his WMDs almost a decade earlier (after seeing what we did to Saddam Hussein) and was performing the Middle East public service of suppressing the jihadist savages, just like Hosni Mubarek next door in Egypt, and Gamal Abdel-Nassar before him, and the Assad dynasty in Syria, and Saddam in Iraq, and the House of Saud, etc. There was no good reason to drive out Gadhafi, no matter who was "out front, because it only ever could benefit one faction: the Global Jihad. Which, of course, is precisely why Obama did it, while indulging his Ameriphobia by "holding the coats" of the Brits and French instead.
Once Gadhafi was gone, the Islamic Fundies took over, leading to the Benghazi massacre, the birthing of the Islamic State (which was being clandestinely rebuilt and armed to the teeth through the Benghazi consulate, you may recall), and the not coincidental rise of the "Syrian civil war," a conflict in which the West had no rooting interest - Sunni jihadists versus the stooge of Shiite jihadists - but into which The One, for some reason, interjected himself with his "red lines" threat in 2012 that proved to be as empty as his testicles a year later. A case, ironically, of the stopped clock being right twice a day, as bombing Assad would have been doing ISIS's fighting for them and handed them the rest of Syria and given them outlets and ports on the Mediterranean Sea, not to mention a common border with Israel to go with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
That an Operation "Don't Mock Me" would have been strategic folly was not, of course, why O flinched from it, but the same diseased mindset of which he's so proud in Libya:
“I’m very proud of this moment,” he told me. “The overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom and the machinery of our national-security apparatus had gone fairly far. The perception was that my credibility was at stake, that America’s credibility was at stake.
Which, when the POTUS tells a foreign dictator, "You stop doing X or we'll do Y," is pretty much the case, actually.
And so for me to press the pause button at that moment, I knew, would cost me politically.
Not that his skin color allowed anybody to notice.
And the fact that I was able to pull back from the immediate pressures and think through in my own mind what was in America’s interest, not only with respect to Syria but also with respect to our democracy, was as tough a decision as I’ve made—and I believe ultimately it was the right decision to make.”
What "our democracy" has to do with anything is anybody's guess. It's an utter non sequitur, not to mention a misnomer, since we're supposed to be a republic.
This was the moment [Obama] believes he finally broke with what he calls, derisively, the “Washington playbook.”
“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said.
In support of our enemies, yes, it is.
“That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses.
Against our enemies, yes. Where warranted. He just lucked out on it not being warranted in the Syrian "red lines" debacle, where it would have exacerbated rather than remedying it. Although he exacerbated it anyway by ceding Syria, and the whole region, to the Russians, proving that even when he's accidentally right, he still has to screw it back to wrongness.
Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”
If you wait to be "directly threatened," as Bolivar Trask said in Days of Future Past, it'll be too late. The use of military force is justified in far more than just such dire, last resort circumstances. President Bush43 said it well: "We fight them over there so that they can't attack us over here." We are - were - a global superpower and we have global interests to protect all around the planet. If we practice genuinely "tough diplomacy" - which is to say, backed up by the credible threat of credible military force - we're less likely to have to resort to that force - Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot, after all. If we don't, if we throw away our military capabilities and not even lead from behind, but switch sides and try to join our enemies thinking that they will leave us alone, then we will be overwhelmed, overrun, and destroyed. It is inevitable.
Or, in other words, the Obama Doctrine that its namesake is so proud of to this day.
Another "fundamental transformation" mission accomplished.