Once, it was easy to understand. John Kennedy in his Inaugural Address: "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we will pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty."
Barack Obama's vision is more complicated. Yes, we'll defend liberty, intervene in other countries--just not with ground troops. Mr. Obama said he would act unilaterally if the U.S. were directly threatened. But in other cases, not alone. "In such cases we should not be afraid to act, but the burden of action should not be America's alone. Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well."
Well, maybe. It's complicated. Kennedy, if memory serves, sent the first U.S. combat troops to Vietnam. It had been a French colony. Ho Chi Minh defeated the French, the country was split in two and, for reasons I never really understood, we intervened to help the South, the more colonial half. We lost. 58,000 Americans died in that war. Today we and the Vietnamese are friends, sort of. The last American troops left there on this day in 1973.
Why does Libya matter? Well, oil, of course. And Gaddafi is clearly a bad guy. But is President Obama prepared to knock off every bad guy on the planet as long as we have allies and don't use ground troops? Stay tuned.