I believe that everyone has as innate bullshit detector. The stated rationale for invading Libya should be making your bullshit detector go off.
It is certainly morally desirable to prevent the suffering of innocents, and the morality of doing so is not contingent on not having done so in other situations. However, examining the entire spectrum of possible action assuming these values existed throughout definitively leads to the conclusion that stated rationale for military action can’t be the actual rationale.
The degree of violence imposed on the civilians of Libya is not of an entirely greater degree than in the rest of the Middle East. On the contrary, the populous of Libya actually showed the ability to fight back in armed conflict unlike the violence imposed elsewhere. Nor is the degree of violence greater than elsewhere in the world. It pales in comparison to the atrocities in which we have chosen not to intervene.
The distinguishing factors of Libya relative to other Middle Eastern states in conflict with their government right now are its lack of allegiance to the US and the presence of oil. Our navy is parked right in Bahrain while Saudi tanks roll up on protesters. It would be easy to act, but the welcomed presence of our navy in a body of water where most of our oil supplies pass makes it unlikely that we would do so. Yemen and Jordan are allies and have no oil. Syria has no oil, and action there would kick the Iran hornets’ nest. For the millions of people slaughtered in the DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, etc., our military superiority would make it relatively easy to prevent suffering compared fighting the Libyian military.
Just as with Iraq, the stated rationales of an oppressive regime and a national threat should have lead to a different conclusion (attack North Korea, the state known to have nuclear weapons and prison camps for a starving populous, or Saudi Arabia, the world’s only remaining hereditary monarchy and the nation of origin of MOST OF THE 9/11 ATTACKERS AND LEADERS), and as such, the rationale must be something else.
That something else is oil. Additionally in the case of Iraq, I’ll be generous to Bush, et al, and grant that they actually thought establishing a democracy in the heart of the Middle East would have beneficial effects in the region. With the benefit of hindsight, Obama cannot harbor such delusions.
So when the actual rationale for a military action is to secure oil supplies for a dead-end energy policy and maintain global hegemony, we need not have moral or ideological qualms about condemning the action.
It’s not about owning the oil necessarily. It’s about protecting the oil infrastructure from sabotage by a dictator headed out the door and maintaining supply of a commodity priced on margin.
A decrease in that supply and a corresponding rise in price could exacerbate an already tenuous economic situation. This is something no first-term president would allow, so we can add getting reelected to the actual rationales. Unless you are a hardcore utilitarian and a believer in Obama, getting reelected probably does not constitute sufficient moral basis for use of violence.
We can also condemn the action as deceitful. With the amount of intellectual gymnastics necessary to get to a remotely coherent doctrine under the stated rationale, the dishonesty is transparent. It doesn’t make it right, but Obama’s hand is forced in this regard. As much as Americans would cry without the benefit of Libya oil entering the world market, I doubt they would accept an outward oil explanation in the midst of two ongoing conflicts. The stated rationale allows Obama to appeal to our sense of moral superiority and not piss off drivers anymore than they already are.
I doubt that on the whole the benefits of this endeavor will exceed the costs. I don’t know what the oil price benefit/military cost ratio is, but I imagine for Obama most of the military costs are sunk. We already had all the ships, planes, and missles lying around, so the marginal cost/benefit analysis strongly favors action when the system doesn’t incentivize you to care about collateral effects past 2012 (or maybe 2016). The costs are in the long-term, incidental impact. It piles on to a sovereign debt problem we have no way to solve absent decreased standards of living. It destabilizes a country that may turn out to be worse for us than the status quo ante. It further robs us of legitimacy in the eyes of the world. The emperor loves to keep strutting all over town without clothes.
This is the reality where we currently find ourselves. Bullshit, myopia, and unjustified use of violence are rewarded. Honesty, foresight, and integrity are disadvantageous.