The debate over Obama's actions in Libya have been hopelessly muddled by what happened in two other recent situations: what George W. Bush did in Iraq, and what Bill Clinton let happen in Rwanda. We must remember that there is a middle ground between "send 150,000 troops to occupy and nation build" and "let millions of people get massacred while the world watches". While Obama attempts to find that middle ground, critics are hysterical on both sides with claims that he is doing too much ("just like George Bush!") or not enough.
The truth is, our intervention in Libya is likely to be inconsequential more than anything. Our help may come too late to save the rebels. Even if they do hold out, they may not be able to finish the drive to the capitol to remove Qaddafi. Thats OK though, because the consequences of our intervention are similarly modest. We have a UN resolution and support from the Arab league. We aren't sending ground troops. Meanwhile, the Libyan military poses zero threat to us or our allies around the world. At best, we allow a revolution to drive out a dictator; at worst, our actions won't change anything.
There is another very good reason to intervene that I don't see many people talking about. This is an extremely important time in world history, with more revolutions in the Middle East almost certain to come. Our actions in Libya are very important, as they provide a very stark contrast for other militaries to consider. When a dictator in the future orders his military to attack civilians, what should the military do? They can take the example of the Egyptian military, and ignore their dictator's orders to shoot, thereby winning the adoration of their people, the support of the world, and the favors of America. Alternatively, they can follow the example of Libyan military, which followed Qaddafi's evil orders and ended up a smoldering, flaming wreckage as a consequence.
The threat of force won't deter everyone. For geopolitical reasons, we can't intervene in Iran, Syria, Bahrain, or some other potential hot spots. Still, this season of revolution is certain to be unpredictable. The single most important factor for the success of peaceful revolution is whether or not the military attacks the people. The last thing we want to do is send a message that it is OK for an air force or military to start attacking civilians. We would almost be inviting massacres. Even though it would be nice if some other country could deal with things for once, Obama is doing the right thing.