As much as we like to hear our President say we've taken on a military role in Libya for humanitarian reasons – to protect the Libyan people from the genocidal regime of Muammar Gaddafi – many still feel that the bottom line reason is to protect America's vital interests, which is of course, oil.

There are, after all, similar outbreaks of open rebellion and civil war currently being waged in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. While the U.S. has placed its bets on Gaddafi as the next despot in the region to fall, the cauldron is boiling on many different fronts in the Middle East. The fact that Libya has 44 trillion barrels of known oil deposits certainly carries weight.

The risk of spreading U.S. forces too thin is also an argument of congressmen from both parties, many of whom are miffed by the fact that they were bypassed by the president in the decision to attack Libya with U.S. military force. One obvious question is whether we're strong enough to take on a third war in the region and the other is whether we can afford to.

The U.S. military role in Libya is estimated to cost $300 million a week. One Tomahawk missile costs $1.4 million and the U.S. reportedly fired some 160 in the initial attack to turn back Gaddafi's surging counterattack against the rebels. The millions spent in that opening attack alone certainly does not help America's escalating national debt, which has been shoved to the back burner of national debate due to the earthquake in Japan and now the war in Libya.

Even Republicans like Indiana's Sen. Richard Lugar are saying that the cost of another war is just too high, and something we certainly aren't budgeted for. Many feel that the involvement of France, the other ally taking a lead role in the Libya fight, is motivated by the fact that President Nicholas Sarkozy needs to boost his sagging political career.

One ally who we should be consulting with on a regular basis is Israel. Violence has been escalating on the Palestinian Gaza Strip and it appears that Jewish patience is wearing very thin after Palestinian attacks in southern Israel.

The revolutionary Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, sees itself as being directed by God, considers Jews to be subhuman and sees the destruction of Israel as the fulfillment of its great crusade.

For President Obama to say that a humanitarian crisis would ensue and the entire region could be destabilized because of Gaddafi's tyrannical rule is true, but he's just one piece of the puzzle. The great diplomatic chess game facing President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is deciding who, when and where to help, and then determining just how strong the military commitment should be.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]