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Posted by on Oct 20, 2011 in International, War | 16 comments

(UPDATE V) Being On The Right Side Of History — For A Change

And so 247 days after troops loyal to Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi opened fire on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, the favor has been returned. The world’s longest ruling despot is dead.

The circumstances of Qaddafi’s death after he apparently was found in a tunnel in his hometown of Surt remain unclear. Initial reports said he had been shot in both legs and was being taken to a hospital for treatment, while later reports said he had died in a gun battle. Rebel leaders said that reports that he had died in a NATO airstrike were false.

Al Jazeera television showed gruesome footage of what appeared to be Qaddafi, alive but bloody, being dragged around by armed men. The television also broadcast a separate clip of his half-naked body, with lifeless open eyes and an apparent gunshot wound to the side of the head, as jubilant fighters fired automatic weapons in the air.

Rebel fighters from Misurata, the port city that suffered deeply during the civil war, took Qaddafi’s body to a morgue in their hometown. There were unconfirmed reports that they intended to display it in Misurata’s central square.

Libyan television also reported that one of Qaddafi’s feared fugitive sons, Muatassim, was killed in Surt, showing what it said was his lifeless bloodied body on a hospital gurney. There were also unconfirmed accounts that another feared son, Seif al-Islam, had been captured and possibly wounded.

In Washington, President Obama said that the death of Qaddafi signaled the start of a new chapter for Libya.

“We can definitely say that the Qaddafi regime has come to an end,” he said. “The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted and with this enormous promise the Libyan people now have a great responsibility to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to Qaddafi’s dictatorship.”

I reluctantly came around to supporting the institution of a NATO-led no-fly zone over Libya in March because it was in the service of a larger cause — the democratic transformation of the Arab world, warts and all as well as risks and all — as well as putting an end to a humanitarian crisis, but no one could have foreseen that the underarmed and ill-disciplined coalition of tribes and political groups could take on Qaddafi’s modern military and eventually defeat it in a relatively brief civil war even after his air force was grounded.

The rebel victory and Qaddafi’s death is a foreign policy and military victory for Obama and another example of the effectiveness of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It also was a textbook example of a new kind of war — fostering democracy through limited intervention, in this case without taking any American lives, and the use of drones and reliance on allies.

And what should be an embarrassment for usually bellicose Republicans who refused to back him and repeatedly accused him of “leading from behind” . . . . oh, and while celebrating Qaddafi’s death in public statements today stayed classy by studiously avoiding any mention of the man who fired the first salvo in the Arab Spring with an address in Cairo in June 2009.

A conspicuous exception was Republican Senator John McCain, who told CNN, “It’s a great day. I think the administration deserves great credit. Obviously, I had different ideas on the tactical side, but the world is a better place.”

Noted an administration official: “Reagan targeted Qaddafi; George W. Bush targeted Bin Laden; Obama has done both.”

Within an hour of the news of Qaddafi’s death, the Arab twittersphere was awash in laudatory comments and hints that a similar fate was in store for other Arab dictators.

As Egypt has shown, the afterglow of a victory over a despot can be short lived and promised changes excruciatingly slow to come. That is likely to be the case in Libya and all the more so because of probable disagreements over how to control and export oil.

And make no mistake, Quaddafi will be mourned by many Libyans. He had transformed the nation from one of the world’s poorest to the most developed in Africa, instituted educational reforms and an imperfect but nevertheless democratic system of government before becoming increasingly erratic in recent years while flaunting his pariah status.