Editorial: After Qaddafi: The Hard Part

The 42-year reign of terror and terrorism of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi at long last seems to be coming to an end. But will that end invite a democratic transition or portend something that more closely resembles the atrocities of Qaddafi’s reign?

Over the weekend, rebel forces who had previously been outgunned by pro-Qaddafi forces and mercenaries, were able to secure key strategic cities and towns and staged a dramatic march into the very heart of Tripoli. Two or three of Qaddafi’s sons have reportedly been captured, and Qaddafi himself is either holed up in his presidential compound or is seeking asylum in Algeria, Venezuela or another “friendly” country.

The apparent ouster of Qaddafi, who has been the dictator of Libya since President Richard Nixon was in the White House, is a long overdue and significant victory against the forces of tyranny and terrorism. After his ascension via military coup in 1969, Qaddafi became the world’s most consistent promoter of terror, He was a sworn and consistent enemy not only of Israel but of the United States and the entire Western world.

Qaddafi not only provided political and financial backing for global terrorist organizations but also personally ordered some of the most heinous acts of terrorism in modern history, including the bombing of a West Berlin disco frequented by United States troops on April 5, 1986; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988, killing 270 people including at least 90 Americans; and the bombing of UTA Flight 772 over Niger, on Sept. 19, 1989, which killed 170 people. The two airline bombings prompted the United Nations to impose sanctions on Libya for its refusal to cooperate in the investigations of the Lockerbie and UTA cases.

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Qaddafi has also ruled with an iron fist, stifling any and all rights of free speech and assembly and sending his goon squads out to murder his political opponents not only within Libya but around the world.

The so-called “Arab Spring” has apparently claimed the ouster of this megalomaniac absolute dictator and sponsor of regional and global terrorism. Credit for his apparent ouster can be shared by the rebels forces and their National Transitional Council, the Arab League and U.N. Security Council which authorized the imposition of a no-fly zone, and NATO which undertook enforcement after the initial U.S. launching of the air support for the rebels. And for those who have chastised the U.S. for too much or too little involvement, there is apparent evidence that American intelligence has played a significant part in the weeks leading up to the rebels’ march to Tripoli.

If the revolution succeeds in toppling Qaddafi, however, now comes the hard part.

One pundit Monday morning asked, jokingly, “How long did it take for the French Revolution of 1789 to produce a stable democracy in France?”

The question is not only amusing, but serves as a cautionary note.

• The Russian Revolution of 1917 against the tyranny of the Czars initially included pro-democracy parties, but was quickly hijacked by the Bolsheviks, who imposed a totalitarian state, which crushed freedom in the USSR for 74 years.

• The Iranian Revolution in 1979, which overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi also included pro-democracy and moderate elements. But the better organized Islamist followers of Ayathollah Ruhollah Khomeini imposed a theocratic dictatorship, which continues to this day, and which ruthlessly put down a peaceful revolution in 2009.

• The Egyptian Revolution which resulted in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak has already resulted in a worsening of relations between Egypt and the U.S. It has also played a role in the violent clashes in the Sinai last week and threatens Israeli-Egyptian peace.

• We also recall the euphoria which greeted the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, quickly followed by widespread looting and lawlessness and a rash of terrorism and sectarian violence that took years to bring under some degree of control.

With the Libyan rebels principally united by animus toward the Qadafi regime and without political consensus, military might or governing savvy, the short-term outlook is murky indeed.

The U.S. and its allies must encourage and support the National Transitional Council, which they have recognized as the interim government of Libya, to prevent a new orgy of lawlessness and violence. Qaddafi and surviving sons must be sent to stand trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, And NATO and the world community must help leadership factions understand the benefits of nonviolent and constructive governance.

Such efforts can be successful in encouraging effective leadership going forward, and in preventing the inspirational people’s revolution against one of the most vicious thugs in history from being replaced by anarchy or another dictatorship.