Mr. Gadhafi’s nearly 42 years in power atop a self-styled “people’s government” that answered only to him and whose every action was an expression of his personal whims made him one of the Arab world’s most mercurial heads of state as well as its longest-ruling despot. He used his country’s oil wealth to build schools, roads and hospitals on an unprecedented scale, but also to buy the loyalty of tribal supporters, meddle shamelessly in the affairs of neighboring countries, sponsor bloody acts of terrorism around the world and brutally repress any hint of dissent at home.
The reports of Mr. Gadhafi’s death also serve as a final validation of President Barack Obama’s strategy in handling the conflict there. Mr. Obama has been criticized from both left and right for committing the United States to a limited military role in the Libyan conflict. In a much-maligned phrase, he chose to "lead from behind" in the conflict, providing American material and support to a NATO air campaign — but no troops on the ground.
That may have made for a conflict that dragged on far longer than it would have if we had sent in the Marines. But it also resulted in a revolution that the Libyan people can rightly claim to have conducted by themselves and for themselves. Their top priorities now must be to reunify their war-devastated country; disarm the dozens of heavily armed militia groups that now act independently of the government’s authority or integrate them under a central command; and oversee the development of an orderly process for the formation of political parties, a constitution and the rule of law that will lead to democratic elections.
With the final fall of the Gadhafi regime, we have achieved our goals without committing ourselves to a years-long occupation, without American casualties, and without alienating the very people we were supposed to be helping. It may not be the model for every international crisis — and indeed, Mr. Obama has pursued many different strategies for dealing with armed conflicts in other parts of the world — but it is surely a validation of the president’s decision to reject the ideological foreign policy of the Bush administration and replace it with a supple new pragmatism. The president’s opponents may hate the idea that America wouldn’t immediately take charge in every situation, but the results in this case speak for themselves.