World leaders called on Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi to surrender Monday after hundreds of rebel fighters swept into Tripoli and secured control of most parts of the capital, heralding an end to his four-decade rule.
With rebels surrounding Gaddafi’s headquarters, his son Saif al-Islam captured and reports of government fighters melting away, the six-month-old battle for control of Libya appeared to be in its final stages. . . .
[T]he rebels were consolidating their control over wide swaths of the capital, and world leaders urged Gaddafi to give up to spare the city further bloodshed.
Gaddafi “needs to acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya,” President Obama said in a written statement issued late Sunday. “He needs to relinquish power once and for all.”
Gaddafi’s removal would be a boon to the Maghreb, which now has an opportunity to pursue greater economic and political co-operation. It will also be a powerful signal to Bashar al-Assad. As Elliott Abrams wrote recently:
[T]he single event that would most help bring down the Assads would be the fall of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. It still isn’t clear today if the lesson of the Arab Spring is that dictators are doomed or that dictators willing to shoot peaceful protesters can win. Once Gadhafi goes, the oxygen Libya is sucking from the Arab struggle for democracy will circulate again. The NATO effort—however poorly implemented—will have finally been a success, and threats of possible military action to protect civilians, especially refugees, will have some credibility.
None of this should excuse the inexplicably tentative and sloth-like response by the Obama administration. Once the fighting ends a full accounting of the death and mayhem wrought by Gaddafi can be uncovered, and with that we may gain a proper appreciation for the toil taken in a war that dragged on needlessly for months and months. The aims and identity of the rebels are far from clear, but the administration would do well to set forth our expectations if the new regime wants to have a productive relationship with the U.S. The humanitarian needs may be great, but beyond that American aid and assistance should be used as carrots to prod the new leadership in the direction of greater freedom, secularized government and peaceful relations with its neighbors and the West.
As for those who disclaimed any U.S. interest in Libya, they should reflect on the potential benefits of a Libya without Gaddafi and the emergence of what we hope will be a less brutal and more responsible regime. To the extent it emboldens rebels in Syria and unnerves Assad, the revolution will be a hugely important and positive development in the emergence of a new Middle East.
Finally, it is important for Obama’s critics to learn the right lesson from this episode. Obama’s foreign policy execution may be awful and deserving of robust criticism, but critics should avoid rejecting a worthy policy objective out of understandable pique with a president whose conception of American leadership is badly askew.
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