What happens when a brutal regime gets replaced by an alternative and largely unknown entity? Exhibit A: Libya.
Shortly after Muammar Gaddafi bumped his head on a bullet, the "rebels" took over and promptly declared Sharia law. It's a start -- I guess. Though a start of what, no one's really quite sure. This week, a new set of Libyan "rebels" has emerged to replace the old ones, seizing control of Tripoli airport and diverting flights. It's just like the game Whack-a-Mole: Knock one down, and five more pop up.
They may sort themselves out and gradually get the hang of democracy, or they may just remain a set of tribal factions fighting for supremacy from now until eternity. Whenever Western intervention is involved in regime change, as was the case with NATO in Libya, there ought to be a certain moral responsibility to stick around until the country has stabilized -- ideally around economic development, natural resource extraction and trade.
Going in without a game plan for stabilization or, worse, as in the case of Afghanistan, allowing the ongoing source of destabilization and corruption to fester and thrive -- as with the opium fields and drug trade -- and then declaring the place a lost cause, arguably makes the exercise pointless. If it was a lost cause going in, and you weren't going to change that, then why bother? Just to temporarily replace a dictator with a bunch of fighting wannabe-dictators? And there had better be a substantial economic return for any of it to have been worthwhile -- none of which is owed to you when you hit 'n' split.
Which brings us to the newest global whipping boy, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, currently reading the part of Muammar Gaddafi in Act One of the same play we saw last year. This week, Syrian rebels fighting against Assad's forces are now calling for the protective cover of a United Nations "no-fly zone" -- which is exactly what happened in Libya right before mission creep, whereby air protection rapidly disintegrated into a ground conflict. It's unlikely Russia and China are likely to fall for that one twice, especially after being hesitant the first time.
Wondering when America is going to intervene militarily in Syria? Psst ... this IS the military intervention. That's why there's been fighting for the past 15 months. It's not like a dictator's iron fist suddenly got wobbly with carpal tunnel syndrome without some kind of external impetus.