I think Victor Davis Hanson has pretty well nailed it:
…Even though Qaddafi was a “revolutionary” anti-American figure, and even though his family and minions were intertwined with Western universities and intellectuals, Obama was worried about yet a third time being a day late and a dollar short, especially amid televised violence. Because he neither understood the rag-tag nature of the rebels (and either did not grasp or did not wish to grasp the jihadist elements among them), nor appreciated that tyrants like Qaddafi, quite unlike Mubarak and a Bin Ali, without compunction kill and “like it,” Obama had no idea that, in fact, the rebels could fizzle, and may, in fact, not be just Westernized intellectuals who want to turn Libya into Dubai.
…Then there were Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Samantha Powers who saw Libya as a postmodern goldmine. Think of it: an apparent cakewalk victory; restoring Obama credibility after the opportunistic and late endorsements in Egypt and Tunisia; a way to show that liberal interventions are tough, compassionate, and competent; subordination to the United Nations, the Arab League, and Europe; outsourcing of congressional approval to international prerogatives; using the military not for U.S. interests but for “humanitarian concerns” to stop “genocide.” And on and on.
So they bullied an otherwise distracted Obama (NCAA playoffs, golf, a Rio jaunt) into a sure-thing, “landmark” intervention on the cheap. Note very well: Key here was an important fact that the saner heads who knew something about strategy and the use of military force (e.g., Richard Holbrooke and James Jones) were either dead or gone. Robert Gates tried to warn Obama, but was overwhelmed…
There has clearly been a complete mis-reading of the events in the Moslem world. None of the people running the foreign policy show understand that all of the regimes of the Moslem world – save that of Iraq – are to some extent or another illegitimate. For US policy, it became a matter of deciding – do we keep with the corrupt regimes we’ve dealt with for decades, or do we cut loose from them? Do we stay out of it and let things fall where they may, or do we intervene to demonstrate ourselves as being on the side of change in the Moslem world?
In my view, correct US policy is to ditch the tyrants and help the rebels…not just in Libya, but everywhere (not necessarily by direct, military intervention…some rebellions can be sustained to victory just by indirect American support). In service of such a policy, we should have intervened in Libya weeks before we did – when the rebels were right outside of Tripoli and it seemed that Gaddafi’s days were numbered (this is, as it turns out, when people like Hillary decided we should move…trouble is, Hillary and the rest have no military experience…lacking this, they didn’t realize that celerity of movement is vital in war, and if we were to intervene we’d better do it in two or three days rather than two or three weeks). We’ve now ended up doing the right thing at the wrong time – and we’re not even 100% on the right course because we have not committed to removing Gaddafi regardless of what it takes.
Obama could still luck out – Gaddafi’s regime could just fold. Loyalists can break free and try to make deals with the rebels. But one doesn’t trust to luck in war…and it is equally likely that as Gaddafi’s forces start to have some success that some of the rebel leaders will seek an accommodation with Gaddafi. My gravest concern is that we’ll wind up with a quasi-war…US air power allowing the rebels to maintain control of a slice of Libyan territory but unable to press on to victory over Gaddafi…at that point, we’ve got an open-ended military commitment, we’ll likely have to shell out heavily for humanitarian assistance, and we’ll be lowered in the eyes of the world as a nation which couldn’t even humble a two bit dictator like Gaddafi.
UPDATE: Want more proof of the utter idiocy of US policy as regards these tyrannical regimes? Well, here it is – US taxpayer dollars were used to bail out a bank partially owned by Gaddafi’s regime. I’ll keep saying it until everyone agrees with me because I’m 100% correct in this: THE UNITED STATES MUST HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH TYRANNICAL REGIMES.