In the background of the ongoing Middle Eastern drama looms the shadow of a rising China. China is not a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system, as we proclaim it should be; it is a free rider. We are at war in Afghanistan to make it a safe place for China to extract minerals and metals. We have liberated Iraq so that Chinese firms can extract its oil. Now we are at war with Libya, which further diverts us from concentrating on the western Pacific—the center of the world's economic and naval activity—which the Chinese military seeks eventually to dominate.
Every time we intervene somewhere, it quickens the pace at which China, whose leaders relish obscurity in international affairs, closes the gap with us. China will have economic and political problems of its own ahead, no doubt, and these will interrupt its rise. But China is spending much less to acquire an overseas maritime empire than we are spending, with all our interventions, merely to maintain ours.
This time around, however, there is no need for historical references, because the hypocrisy is playing out in real time. When protests started in Tunisia in January, the French foreign minister offered the Tunisian police training to “restore calm.” The day before Libya was attacked, dozens of protesters were shot dead in Yemen. Less than a week before, Saudi forces invaded Bahrain, where many protesters have been killed. These are American allies.
So while the West clearly has the power to intervene, given its history of colonialism and imperialism, it has no more credibility to do so on humanitarian grounds in this region than Iran would to bomb Bahrain in defense of the Shiites who are currently being killed there.