What, precisely, does the president hope to achieve in Libya?
Pres. Barack Obama’s reluctant military intervention in Libya followed from a number of logical considerations. First, his administration had been widely criticized for much of 2011 for his contradictory and tardy admonitions to pro-Western Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to step down in the face of mounting domestic political pressure. Too often, the degree of American official support for reformers in the streets of the Middle East seemed predicated only on their chances of success — as if the Nobel peace laureate Obama were some sort of Kissingerian realist rather than a principled proponent of universal human rights.
That charge of moral indifference grew louder as the president again kept silent during three weeks of escalating violence in Libya — at least until February 23, when he finally expressed anger over the unrest. He subsequently dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Europe to echo the more muscular rhetoric of our French and British allies and at last announced American intentions to enforce a no-fly zone in reaction to a United Nations Security Council resolution of March 17.