If true, Qaddafi’s death marks an important milestone — not just for Libya’s transition to a more decent order, but for America’s strategic interests in seeing the Great Arab Rebellions of 2011 resume a more benign trajectory. In the wake of the rapid collapse of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, it was Qaddafi’s ability to hold on to power by declaring war on his own people that signaled that the “Revenge of the Tyrants” was on, and that the region’s worst totalitarians had no intention of going gently into that good night — the will of their own people and the condemnation of the world be damned. Most destructively for U.S. interests, Iran’s handmaiden in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, quickly followed suit, and has been massacring thousands of his own citizens ever since in cahoots with the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards.
Qaddafi’s inglorious end sends a belated message that this gambit, too, will ultimately fail — a powerful reminder that, try as they might, the region’s despots cannot through blood and brutality forever hold off history’s harsh judgement. Assad’s head will rest far less easy tonight. The morale of the Syrian people will receive a much-needed boost to endure the difficult days that no doubt still lie ahead. And perhaps most importantly, the hard men around Assad who have continued to do his dirty work, will have new cause to save their own skins by reassessing their misguided loyalties to a leader who is dragging them and their community ever closer to catastrophe. With a strategic stake in Syria’s fate that dwarfs our interests in Libya, the United States would be well advised to exploit the openings created by Qaddafi’s terminus to re-energize the effort to depose Assad, short-circuit the civil war that he is struggling mightily to ignite, and deliver a crippling blow to the Iranian terror machine that so threatens our interests and those of our allies.
— John P. Hannah, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, served as national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney from 2005 to 2009.