First, it was neither courage nor some sort of Augustinian epiphany that prompted Gadhafi’s decision. It was fear. Over the past two years, U.S.-led coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated a vital truth of modern warfare: The U.S. has the power to remove by force any individual regime it chooses to focus on. No, we cannot by any stretch remove all enemy regimes, but the message, which evidently reached Gadhafi, is that any tyrant who prefers to avoid a Saddam-style medical exam would be wise to keep his head down, his weapons conventional and his name off the top of the U.S. enemies charts.
This is a terrific turn of events, providing useful leverage for the U.S. In negotiating with despots, there is little virtue to offering carrots, which involve extending our own measure of trust. Among tyrants, that tends to inspire not reform and respect, but contempt and betrayal (Kim Jong Il, take a bow). Far more effective with this crowd is the stick (or, in Saddam’s case, the tongue depressor).
And certainly in U.S. efforts to channel this fear toward the desirable end of despots disarming, there is logic to letting tyrants know that once they give up their weapons of mass murder, they can rest assured that they have dropped a few notches on the U.S. military’s to-do list.