As much as select ignoramuses will whine that the Libyan mission was about oil, the truth is that Libya wasn't even on the radar until Gaddafi started getting twitchy during the Arab Spring and clamping down on dissidents. This provided an opening for military action so firmly under the guise of humanitarianism that French leftists expressed the highest level of support for the war among all possible ideological groups in both the United States and France. If oil contracts are now in play, that's just a perk rather than a cause of war in itself. Libya has to sell it to someone, and it may as well be to countries that share our Western values.
In trying too hard to project a lack of direct leadership and control in military action, as Obama has been doing -- particularly in contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush, who took a strong top-down leadership approach and claimed responsibility for all military action overseas -- he risks putting America in a less competitive position to claim energy contracts.
Power and influence are synonymous with energy and oil. Russia's Vladimir Putin figured this out a long time ago, and has figured out how to use oil hegemony to build a transnational empire including Japan, Europe, South America, China and the Middle East. It's also why he's so obsessed with the Arctic at the moment. The Libyan oil presence of Russia's state-owned Gazprom is now in jeopardy in the wake of Russia's opposition to Libyan military action. This window of opportunity should have been a perfect, fumble-proof pass straight into Obama's arms. If reports of the new Libya more tightly embracing Sharia law prove correct, influence through energy could prove vital.
Ali Tarhouni, the Libyan National Transitional Council's oil and finance minister, has already said that priority will be given to countries that helped Libya. Visibly, this includes France and Britain. Less visibly, it could also include America. Under George W. Bush, it would have clearly and in no uncertain or ambiguous terms included America. That's the problem with outsourcing leadership, responsibility and involvement: Rewards might end up being equally uncertain.
Image matters, and America can't afford Obama's backseat-driving approach to wartime leadership -- particularly when oil is at stake.