“It was not — it was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about. The engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake”… Defense Secretary: Libya Did Not Pose Threat to U.S., Was Not ‘Vital National Interest’ to Intervene

Pres. Obama letting emotions be his guide is how we got into Libya. It’s also the leading reasoning behind others who back him.

Juan Cole has a post up today “unabashedly cheering the liberation movement on”, applauding Pres. Obama’s interventionism into Libya, his war of choice. As much as I respect Juan Cole, his arguments are unpersuasive, as he cherry picks his way through rationalizing the President’s actions.

The United Nations Security Council authorization for UN member states to intervene to forestall this massacre thus pitched the question. If the Left opposed intervention, it de facto acquiesced in Qaddafi’s destruction of a movement embodying the aspirations of most of Libya’s workers and poor, along with large numbers of white collar middle class people. Qaddafi would have reestablished himself, with the liberation movement squashed like a bug and the country put back under secret police rule. The implications of a resurgent, angry and wounded Mad Dog, his coffers filled with oil billions, for the democracy movements on either side of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia, could well have been pernicious. […]

Among reasons given by critics for rejecting the intervention are:

1. Absolute pacifism (the use of force is always wrong)

2. Absolute anti-imperialism (all interventions in world affairs by outsiders are wrong).

3. Anti-military pragmatism: a belief that no social problems can ever usefully be resolved by use of military force.

For a man who has called Afghanistan another Vietnam, while never understanding the human rights as women’s rights argument, it’s astounding Cole is ignoring a major element on Libya. One that has convinced me that we’ve done what we can in Afghanistan and while we’ll continue to aid them, our military must disengage.

There is absolutely nothing about Libya that is in American’s geopolitical interests.

Cole’s flippant refusal to consider the Sudan because military intervention would have required more effort than Libya is to say that preventing genocide can only be done if it’s easy. Genocide often happens in out of the reach places where the perpetrators think they can get away with it, as they did in Rwanda.

The other very real issue is focus and what taking our eye off of the geopolitical ball can mean. Distractions are dangerous and that’s exactly what Libya is.

From Steve Clemons, who is correct on Libya and has the most cogent analysis of anyone:

However, the nation of real rather than imagined national security consequence to the U.S. in the region is Egypt. Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations and others — including myself — are worried about the ‘bandwidth’ of the White House to deal with multiple major challenges at the same time. Libya will soon be NATO protectorate and focus of significant attention — adding some ‘stretch marks’ to the stress NATO members are already feeling on Afghanistan.

But what of Egypt which is going through extraordinary changes in turbo time? Senior officials in the Department of State tell me “we are on it.” And I believe they are in the sense of working with Egyptian authorities to offer counsel on strategies to transform the Constitution and set the terms for significantly broader political stakeholding in the country — but there is no doubt that the system that President Obama has established for exhaustively internally inclusive national security decision making has less space for Egypt today than Libya.

Meanwhile, Sec. Clinton said today that the U.S. would not intervene in Syria.

Clinton said the elements that led to intervention in Libya — international condemnation, an Arab League call for action, a United Nations Security Council resolution — are “not going to happen” with Syria, in part because members of the U.S. Congress from both parties say they believe Assad is “a reformer.”

Leaving aside for now the absurd notion that Pres. Assad is a “reformer,” I cannot find any through line from the Administration on why Libya and not Syria.

Sen. Joe Lieberman did and it reveals the problem in Juan Cole’s analysis, which opens up a whole can of worms. Via Reuters:

Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent, suggested the United States and other countries could intervene militarily in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad, who came to power after the 2000 death of his father, Hafez, attacked protesters with greater ferocity.

“There’s a precedent now that the world community has said in Libya, and it’s the right one, ‘we’re not going to stand by and allow this Assad to slaughter his people like his father did years ago,'” Lieberman told the “Fox News Sunday” program.

Of course we feel for the poor and workers of Libya. If Gadhafi had been allowed to clash with protesting Libyan civilians it would have been gut wrenching to watch.

But what about human rights violations in China? In North Korea?

If the U.S. is spread any thinner our national security interests will become vulnerable, our interests unprotected, because we will now be embroiled in Libya, along with Afghanistan and Iraq. While Egypt, which is much more critical to American interests than Libya, will not get the attention it warrants.

It’s being reported that NATO will indeed take on duties beyond the no-fly zone, arms embargo, but also protecting civilians. But NATO’s “Needs America To Operate” history means we won’t be completely hands off, because this mission is not over. Never mind we still do not know the ultimate intent, which Obama states is “Gadhafi must go,” while admitting he has no intention of forcing the issue.

The entire endeavor has been fraught with inconsistensies from the start.

Juan Cole is understandably emotional about Libya, which is how Pres. Obama got dragged into this war of choice in the first place.

There are many tensions breaking open and what’s required right now is clear, tough-eyed realism. Bleeding hearts will compromise American interests and get us embroiled while our adversaries plot.