Still, toppling a murderous dictatorship when and where it can be done is a success well worth the effort. After dallying a long and bloody month, President Obama did decide to intervene, and that was the right decision. The Libyan rebels deserved U.S. support and, though Gadhafi loyalists continue to resist, certainly earned their victory.
Now the war for order begins, a struggle to define the new terms of modernity in Libya. Like Saddam, Gadhafi leaves a political and cultural vacuum. He and his cronies were the political class.
The Libyan rebels face numerous problems. They divide along regional, political, economic and ethnic lines. There is no single rebel army -- there are anywhere from four to seven, depending on how one defines army. Independent forces led by commanders only vaguely responsible to higher authorities are difficult to control; unrestrained, they may seek savage retribution against former regime loyalists.
Their continued independent existence could also seed renewed civil war. Moreover, no one victorious general or political leader has emerged as a national leader, though the Transitional National Council has proved to be a quasi-representative forum capable of handling adversity and competing rebel interests. With committed international support, it could be the kernel of a democratic government.
Fears of factional fighting, al-Qaida intrigues, militant Islamist takeover and Iranian finagling are legitimate fears, but rampant pessimism is an error. The rebels' common investment of blood, toil, sweat, tears and bullets provides a common political basis for rebuilding their country as something other than a tyranny.
Iran has been at war inside Iraq since 2003 -- that is why Iraq remains unstable. Libya's most immediate neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, need a stable Libya. They have their own revolutions to attend to, thank you.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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