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A brutal dictator toppled with uncommon finesse

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Aug. 22, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
August 23, 2011 8:49 am

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

With rebel forces nearly in control of Tripoli, Moammar Gadhafi’s 42 years of despotism – which began when Richard Nixon was a rookie president – have ended.

This is, among other things, another big international success for Barack Obama. Some of the president’s critics continue to insist that the president is running a weakling foreign policy, but the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and now Gadhafi would beg to disagree.

From a strictly American perspective, the toppling of Gadhafi’s loathsome dictatorship played out nicely. The U.S. intervened powerfully at the outset by hitting key Libyan targets with Tomahawk cruise missiles, disabling the regime’s air defenses, and making it possible for NATO aircraft to operate freely and strike Libyan military assets with impunity.

Then the United States handed off the lead to NATO, especially Britain and France. With intense Western air support, Libya’s ragtag opposition forces gradually coalesced and began to prevail against the Libyan army, finally breaking into the capital over the weekend.

The military effort required excruciating months to bear fruit, but the results can’t be argued with: No U.S. invasion, no significant U.S. losses, dictator gone. Some have complained that Obama ceded leadership to America’s allies. In our book, that’s smart. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging Britain – and especially France – to step up to the kind of military mission the United States often winds up getting stuck with.

This ouster of this particular dictator is unusually sweet. Gadhafi’s been a nasty player on the world stage longer than most people now alive can remember. Like Fidel Castro, his charismatic style and grandiose visions distinguished him from garden-variety sociopaths.

In the 1970s and 1980s especially, Gadhafi was an enthusiastic sponsor of international terrorism. He ran terrorist training camps; he financed, armed and otherwise supported legions of killers.

He bankrolled Black September, the vicious Palestinian group that massacred Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. His agents blew a Pan Am jetliner out of the sky above Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270. Ronald Reagan famously labeled him the “mad dog of the Middle East.”

He’d been partially tamed since 2003, when he started to make nice with civilized nations and openly dismantled his nuclear program. But his oppression of the Libyan people continued, and no one had forgotten his murderous international ventures.

Good riddance to Col. Gadhafi. And welcome to his successors. However inept or heavy-handed they may prove to be, Libya’s new management is bound to be an improvement on the old.

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