With Qaddafi gone, will Libyans put down their arms, clear the rubble, organize a decent government, and use the oil wealth that lies under the desert sands to rebuild? One can hope. Few bookmakers would give odds.
Qaddafi was not America’s friend, but the vision of U.S. troops pulling Saddam Hussein from a spider hole in Iraq did persuade him that having America as an enemy was not smart. So he gave up his drive to develop nuclear weapons and coughed up useful intelligence on how that project had been organized. He stopped financing terrorism — as far as we’re aware. He did continue oppressing his own people. Both the Bush and the Obama administrations pretty much gave him a pass on that.
If the Great Arab Revolt — “Arab Spring” is a hopeful, not descriptive term — ends up only removing Qaddafi and, from neighboring Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a despot who was, nonetheless, a reasonably pliant client of the U.S., and if Iran’s theocrats remain in power and manage to save the Assad dynasty in Syria while continuing to use Hezbollah to control Lebanon and sponsoring Hamas in Gaza, the lesson will be clear: It is more dangerous to be America’s ally than its enemy.
Such a lesson will carry long-term strategic consequences. If there are strategic planners in the current administration, now would be a good time for them to start worrying.