The downfall of Colonel Gaddafi was triggered by young rebels who overthrew a brutal dictator with scrounged arms and almost no military leadership and coordination - albeit with substantial and certainly pivotal NATO support.
Although this poses serious questions regarding the control of this somewhat ragtag liberation army when the fighting stops, it is clearly a victory for the people of Libya. It is their revolution. The new Libya can be what they make of it.
Without NATO support, it is unlikely the Gaddafi regime could have been defeated. And it may be necessary for NATO to provide military training and coordination of security forces in a liberated Libya. But, this will be a call that Libyans will make. As they made it their revolution, they need to make it their reconstruction - albeit with substantial external assistance for rebuilding oil production infrastructure so the new government can leverage renewed oil revenues. Hopefully, the Libyans will have learned from the Iraqi experience and will not dismantle institutions necessary for day-to-day operation of society even as they create new institutions of civil society to replace the bizarre personality cult of Gaddafi.
There are commonalities about the self-determination movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and now Syria. They are nationalistic movements led by young people using social media. They are mostly secular and decidedly home grown. And each has its unique characteristics. For example, Egypt's strong military ultimately joined in the overthrow of Mubarak, while the Libyan military was not strong enough to save Gaddafi nor flexible enough to become a major player for the future. And the Syrian outcome is not yet clear.
Some pundits have claimed that President Obama doesn't have a coherent foreign policy doctrine.
Yet there is a remarkably consistent conceptual framework in Obama's foreign policy, running from his Nobel Prize speech in December 2009 to his position on the Arab Spring, including Libya. It is remarkable both for its consistency and for its content.
Over-simplified, it takes each situation case-by-case (echoing Colin Powell a decade ago). Balances American national interests and values. Realizes that America's international power is not just military but also economic and moral, and that it depends in no small measure on domestic strength. It then reaches out to internationalize, to foster and leverage coalitions and consensus, rather than proceeding unilaterally. Robust, yet often discreet, multilateral diplomatic engagement comes first in any international conflict. It does not shrink from applying military force, but strives to mobilize others in support of its use. And when force is used, wherever possible civilians must be spared from violence. Limited goals. Limited means. A pragmatic foreign policy that has played out clearly and successfully in the case of Libya. With regional leadership bolstered by American support rather than relying on the U.S. always to take the first step, or to commit the majority of the resources. This is the essence of concerted action in the broader international interest.
The Arab League condemned and ostracized Gaddafi. France early on recognized the rebel leaders even before they could be characterized as a provisional government. France and Britain rallied a NATO consensus for military action to protect civilians and prevent Gaddafi's forces from pulverizing the nascent rebels, and eventually to arm and assist them by destroying Gaddafi's military superiority. All under authority of a unanimous UN Security Council Resolution in 1973 authorizing "all necessary measures to protect civilians" - passed 10-0 with abstentions - read acquiescence - by Brazil, China, India, Germany and Russia.