In Libya, spontaneous domestic insurrection appears to have won. Months of brutal fighting seems now to be successful in overthrowing four decades of brutal rule by Dictator Moammar Gadhafi. This is one element of the tremendous turmoil now sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, as people en masse demand basic human rights and representation.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 authorizes military force to protect Libyan civilians. The U.S., working primarily with allies Britain and France, has been using air power to control Libya's skies and destroy Gadhafi's forces, coordinating with rebel troops doing the ground fighting.
History as well as contemporary incentives inform the alliance against Gadhafi. Europe, especially France, is far more dependent than the United States on Libya oil. German reluctance to engage directly and abstention in UN voting is understandable given their past history in North Africa.
President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and successor Leon Panetta and other United States leaders rightly emphasize that regime change in Libya essentially is up to the Libyan people. The U.S. in any case has no ground forces to spare.
Gadhafi's tyrannical rule endured more than four decades, and has cost the blood of Americans as well as Libyans and other nations' people. His terrorism includes the notorious bombing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in December 1988 that killed 270. For years, he recruited mercenaries to provide military and terrorist training, including renegade U.S. special operations pros. The Libyan leader also developed weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. and allies have crucial technological advantages. Since the last stages of the Vietnam War, precision guided munitions have allowed unprecedented weapons accuracy. Today, our high-flying advanced military aircraft are virtually invulnerable to ground fire.
This in turn leads into dangerous space, including American overemphasis on air power as decisive. During the early phases of the Vietnam War, American civilian as well as Air Force decision-makers exaggerated the potency of air power. Some believe falsely that air attacks alone brought stability to the Balkans in the 1990s. In fact, ground forces are crucial.
For the U.S. to have ignored the UN concerning the challenge of Libya's revolution would have weakened future as well as current international cooperation. Failure to prevent genocide elsewhere, notably in Rwanda in the 1990s, helped spur the current intervention.
For Americans, Libya remains a special case. Edwin P. Wilson, an embittered American intelligence pro, went to work for terrorist state Libya in the 1970s. Wilson recruited highly trained military veterans, including U.S. Army Green Berets, for Gadhafi's regime.
Killings in Colorado as well as Germany were blamed on Wilson's lethal crew. Arms deals included shipping 20 tons of C-4 plastic explosives to Libya in chartered planes. Wilson became a U.S. law enforcement priority. Libya refused to extradite him, but American operatives set up an apparently lucrative deal and lured him to the Caribbean, where he was arrested.
Wilson spent almost three decades in prison, but now lives freely in Seattle. A federal judge ruled the CIA and Department of Justice acted improperly, including lying to the court, and overturned his conviction and he was freed in 2004.
By definition, the rule of law puts the same obligations on all parties, innocent and guilty, just and unjust. The goal is great and the process at times painful.
Supporting the UN and associated bodies is central to this vital end.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College. E-mail him at email@example.com