Is Libya Really About Iran?

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In recent days we’ve heard a variety of rationales for military intervention in Libya. One is the simple humanitarian impulse to save lives in imminent danger, which Obama officials insist is paramount. Beneath that are other unstated, or less-emphasized, motivations. One, as Massimo has explained, is the assertion of humanitarian intervention as an ideal in itself. Another is the principle of enforceable norms dictated by international bodies like the U.N. and the Arab League, as the president himself seemed to say yesterday. And there are some less noble theories, including the idea that the White House feared losing face if Ghaddafi were to survive after Obama called for his ouster, or the notion that once Sarkozy took the political lead (perhaps motivated by domestic political pressures), Obama couldn’t afford not to participate.

Today The Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon throws another ingredient into the mix: Iran.

White House concerns that Iran’s hand is being strengthened by recent events in the Middle East is central to its response to the turmoil, say U.S., European, and Arab officials.

President Barack Obama’s decision last week to use military force against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s forces was made in part by his administration’s fear that Western inaction could further embolden Tehran, these officials say.

It’s not entirely clear from Solomon’s story how Obama’s Libyan intervention represents a challenge to Iran. But the idea seems to be that the U.S. is demonstrating that the world won’t tolerate repressive tyrants like Ghaddfi (or, if you will, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad). It certainly complicates matters that the U.S. is are not more vigorously opposing the anti-democratic crackdowns in Yemen and Bahrain. But the explanation in those cases also comes back to Iran: Obama officials say they believe that Tehran is meddling in both those countries, coloring the popular movements there in Washington’s view, and suggesting that the great Arab revolution of 2011 may be turning into something of a proxy struggle between the U.S. and Iran.