The first question is not whether we should be acting in Libya, but who should make that decision. Obama has made not one but two disturbing choices. The first was to decide that he, not Congress, would make the call to intervene, despite clear language in the Constitution designating the president as the commander but the Congress as the only branch entitled to decide whether to engage militarily. Obama donned the crown even more brazenly than either of the two George Bushes. The first asked Congress to authorize the first Gulf War and the second asked Congress to authorize the use of military force -- meaning that both the first Gulf War and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan proceeded with congressional authorization. Obama, in sending American ships and planes to Libya, simply claimed the right to act on his own. And then did so.
The "I'm King" scenario is bad enough, but Obama also has a second story available if we're not ready to buy that one. In this tale, Obama acted not as a king, but under the authority granted to him by the United Nations Security Council. But while the Founders had their disagreements, none ever envisioned that the question of whether or not to send Americans on a military mission would be left up to other nations. Obama assumed authority for the Libyan adventure on two false premises, not one.
Then there comes the question of why we are there. The president makes a good point that preventing the slaughter of innocents and the rule of dictators is a necessity if we are to live up to our American values. But is the Obama doctrine then that we will intervene in every such case? If people seeking democracy and all its benefits -- the right to vote, to have their own delegates make the laws, to write and speak as they choose -- rise up in Saudi Arabia, will we go to their aid? In Pakistan? In China? The Obama doctrine seems a bit incomplete.
I accept that Qaddafi is a bad dude and Libya -- the planet, too -- would be better off in his absence. But when was that decided? Not two months ago; neither President Obama nor the UN Security Council was then demanding that he go. Perhaps they should have been doing so, but they weren't.
This is similar to what happened in Egypt. One day Hosni Mubarak was our ally, keeping arms out of Gaza, and maintaining a secular counterweight to Middle East extremism. Then the people rose up, finally, and to my cheers as well as those of most people who don't like dictatorships. And so Mubarak eventually said he would step down and fairly soon. He would not run again; his son would not run. Within a few months -- time to create a new constitution and shape a new government -- the Mubarak regime would at last be over. That was the time for the president of the United States to keep his mouth shut and to quietly impress upon the Egyptian military that if they kept to the pattern of support for Israel and resistance to religious extremism, the U.S. would continue to provide the funds that keep their army functioning (an aside: I go to Egypt frequently and each time meet with top Egyptian military leaders; they make a strong argument that their weapon systems, many of which date back to their flirtation with the Soviet Union, badly need replacement.) That is what is known to diplomats as "leverage" and it is leverage the Congress -- which makes that decision, too -- is happy to provide.