Almost daily over the last four months we were told that Muammar Gadhafi was about ready to throw in the towel and give up.
Libya, after all, is not a distant Afghanistan or Iraq with a population of some 30 million. Yet this tiny police state of less than 7 million people, conveniently located on the Mediterranean Sea opposite nearby Europe, continues to thwart the three great powers of the NATO alliance and thousands of "Arab Spring" rebels.
In March, President Obama ordered the use of American bombers and cruise missiles to join in with the French and British to finish off the tottering Gadhafi regime. Obama was apparently stung by liberal criticism that the U.S. had done little to help rebels in their weeks-long effort to remove Gadhafi -- after only belatedly supporting the successful revolutionaries in Tunisia and Egypt.
Months ago, intervention to the Obama administration seemed a short, painless way of ridding the world of a decades-long international menace while gaining praise for helping "democratic" reformers. Oil, of course, is always a subtext in any Middle Eastern war.
But almost immediately contradictions arose. Sometimes we ordered Gadhafi to leave; at other times we insisted we were only helping the rebels. Bombs seemed to be aimed at the Gadhafi family, even as we denied such targeted killing -- and were reminded that U.S. law forbids the assassination of foreign leaders.
The rebels were variously described as would-be democratic reformers, inept amateurs, hard-core Islamists, or mixtures of all three. No one seems to have answers months later, though many insurgents share a deep-seeded racial and religious hatred of Gadhafi's African mercenaries. Who knows whether post-Gadhafi Libya will become an Islamic republic, a Somalia-like mess, another Arab dictatorship or a Turkish-style democracy?
The more NATO forces destroyed Gadhafi's tanks, artillery, planes and boats, the more the unhinged dictator seemed to cling to power. Western leaders had forgotten that Gadhafi lost a war with Egypt in 1977, lost a war with Chad in 1987, and came out on the losing end of Ronald Reagan's bombing campaign in 1986 -- and yet clung to power and remains the planet's longest-ruling dictator. Terror, oil, cash reserves and a loyal mercenary army are a potent combination.