That the nation is apprehensive and ambivalent about President Barack Obama's military intervention in Libya is natural, even healthy.
America has been at war for 10 years, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. Afghanistan blazes on with no resolution imaginable. Iraq, meanwhile, exists in a state of suspended animation, punctuated by periodic terrorist attacks, such as the recent failed hostage taking in Tikrit that left at least 58 dead.
These days, most of the nation is suspicious of military glory — with the possible exception of senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, who cannot seem to think of an Arab country they wouldn't want to invade immediately, if not sooner.
In his 28-minute address Monday night, Obama steered clear of heroic talk. He was sober, straightforward, and — for the most part — specific.
Obama was emphatic: United States air power was deployed to save the 700,000 people of Benghazi. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi had vowed to massacre its residents. Qaddafi seemed to relish the idea of his troops going door-to-door, shooting civilians in a carnival of barbarity that would have combined revenge with blood sport.
International practice tends to call for a halt of genocidal rampage only after it has begun.
In 1994, somewhere around 800,000 people were slaughtered in Rwanda.
A year later, it wasn't until the Srebrenica massacre that NATO agreed to act in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some estimate the death toll there to be 200,000.
For acting before the killing started, Obama deserves high praise. All he seems to get, however, is grief.
There are some valid criticisms to be leveled at Obama and his administration, the most significant of which focus on the president's tepid-at-best consultation with Congress.
Still, those who insist on calling the Libya mission a full-scale war need to have their heads examined. It is an action, an intervention, limited in scope even if it's of uncertain duration.
Republican hypocrisy on Libya is rich, even by GOP standards. But a new standard is being set by the likes of Rand Paul and Newt Gingrich, who seem to get away with constantly talking out of both sides of their always-running mouths.
One day the president was at fault for inaction, taking too long to decide on a course of action. Then when Obama did act, he was slammed for being precipitous and reckless.
Obama is also faulted for singling out Libya for special treatment. Why intervene only in Libya? Why not Syria? Why not Yemen? Why not Bahrain?
The people who ask this question know the answer. They may not like the answer, but they know what it is.
Western intervention might make a difference in Libya in a way that it probably wouldn't in Arab nations east of Egypt.
By pledging to keep ground forces out of Libya and by turning operations over to NATO — specifically France and Great Britain — Obama is making it plain to the world that he's not a lone cowboy. Restraint, coupled with United Nations sanctions and the blessing of the Arab League, make the Libyan air operation very different from Iraq or Afghanistan.