In terms of philosophy, ideology and motivations, the administration's approach to foreign policy can further be understood by Obama's position from the outset. He has been adamant that America is seen as imperialistic by foreign nations, especially Arab and Muslim nations, and must radically reset its image to ingratiate itself to the world community. He believes terrorism is in large part fomented by the world's negative perception of the United States -- a perception he shares to some extent and one he is obsessed with changing.
That's why he went on his world apology tour, threatened (recklessly and unrealistically) to dismantle multiple components of Bush's anti-terror policies (later reneging) and promised to negotiate with dictators on even terms -- "engagement." If you doubt this, then explain Gates' assertions that America's chief interest in Libya is "the engagement of Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans" and, he threw in, "the general humanitarian question."
There's more. In trying to distinguish between the Libyan and Syrian situations, Clinton said the Syrian situation isn't as severe yet. Then she got to the crux of it: "But in Libya, when a leader says 'spare nothing, show no mercy' and calls out air force attacks on his own people, that crosses a line that people in the world had decided they could not tolerate."
As liberal writer William Saletan points out, "the key phrase isn't no mercy or air force. It's they could not tolerate. Not we, but they. We're outsourcing our standards for intervention." But Saletan noted it is "worse than outsourcing." Outsourcing is hiring someone to do your bidding, but in Libya, "we're hiring ourselves out to do what somebody abroad wants." Indeed, one might consider our military the new mercenaries for foreign governments.
If you understand Obama's thinking, it all makes sense. He obviously believes it is in our interests to act in ways that don't fit the conventional definition of national self-interest. In his worldview, our conventional self-interest is selfish and imperialistic. For too long, America has looked out for its own interests and has exploited the world, its people and its resources. With these unrelenting overtures denying our self-interest, Obama hopes to show the world that the new America -- Obama's America -- is different and moral.
In the meantime, we may very well be propping up coalitions of jihadists in both Egypt and Libya and who knows where else, but that's OK because Obama and his fellow liberals have "good intentions."