Many commentators have said that intervention in Libya now is too little, too late (or maybe too much, too late). The presumptive purpose of the campaign is to protect civilian lives against Qaddafi's predations. President Obama said yesterday,
Our military action is in support of a international mandate from the Security Council that specifically focuses on the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Qaddafi to his people. ...Do you see a pattern here? It is that the employment of the American military must have prior international approval. Let's take a look at the timeline. Calls for a no-fly zone began in February. British Prime Minister David Cameron directed his general staff to start working it out before the end of that month.
And in the face of that, the international community rallied and said we have to stop any potential atrocities inside of Libya, and provided a broad mandate to accomplish that specific task. As part of that international coalition, I authorized the United States military to work with our international partners to fulfill that mandate. ...
But when it comes to our military action, we are doing so in support of U.N. Security Resolution 1973, that specifically talks about humanitarian efforts. And we are going to make sure that we stick to that mandate.
[Question about Arab support]
Well, look, the Arab League specifically called for a no-fly zone before we went to the United Nations. And that was I think an important element in this overall campaign. ...
I think it’s also important to note that the way that the U.S. took leadership and managed this process ensures international legitimacy and ensures that our partners, members of the international coalition are bearing the burden of following through on the mission, as well.
March 12 -- the Arab League calls on the UN to establish a no-fly zone
March 14 -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes in Paris for intervention talks and then returns the the US.
March 15 -- A meeting of the G8's foreign ministers turns aside from endorsing intervention.
March 16 -- Qaddafi's forces are at the brink of taking Benghazi
March 17 -- The UN Security Council passes Resolution 1973 that calls upon member states to use "all necessary measures" (read, military power) to protect civilians.
March 19 -- Secretary Clinton again is in Paris for resuming the talks. Initially she is non-committal, reflecting a vacuum of leadership in the White House. Yet by the end of the morning, she noted that Arab leaders had "changed the landscape" of the situation by calling more clearly and urgently for intervention. She also said that the Arab Gulf states were "critical to the international community’s efforts on Libya." It is widely reported that she and America's UN ambassador, Susan Rice, together brought President Obama into concurrence.
March 19 -- France initiates air strikes against Qaddafi's army near Benghazi.
What seems to be the bottom line? First, the administration has repeatedly emphasized that American military strikes are authorized by the UN and the Arab League. That only the US Congress can authorize war against Libya seems to be of no concern to the president.
This administration, including Ms. Clinton, has placed American military employment subservient to the United Nations and, most particularly, the Gulf States. Although some US critics have called the Libya intervention a "cowboy" action no different from the (presumed) cowboy actions of G.W. Bush, it's more than obvious that Obama does not see it that way.
Community organizer that he is at heart, this president believes that only the "international community" (of which there is no such thing, but let that pass) can authenticate or authorize military actions by the United States. Since in this case the target is an Arab country, the endorsement of the Persian Gulf states was required. Since the Congress represents neither the "international community" nor the Arab states, then not only is Congress's authorization not needed, it would actually be counter-productive by maintaining the unjust position that America's national self-interest is predominant. This compulsion to subordinate US military operations to the "international community" also explains why the president has vowed to hand operational control of American forces over to a European authority (just who is yet to be determined).
By at least conceptually placing America's interests and the use of its military second or third to the "international community's," Secretary Clinton and President Obama likely believe that their main purpose in this intervention has already been accomplished, no matter the outcome on the ground in Libya.
Update: See also, "Understanding Obama: His One-World View and Foreign Policy."