Though reporting from Tripoli remains spotty, it appears that a coordinated Libyan rebel ground offensive and precise NATO air power have ended the 42-year-old regime of Moammar Khadafy. While celebrating the removal of a dictator who suppressed his people and supported international terrorism, it is essential to learn what we can from Libya before the next international humanitarian intervention.
This is not just a theoretical exercise. On Thursday, President Obama declared that, "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President [Bashar] Assad to step aside." Below are three lessons based on what happened in Libya - and how they matter for Syria and beyond.
First, Western leaders who supported the removal of Khadafy never had an accurate picture of what was going on in Libya. They made an error of assessment that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe acknowledged with rare candor: "I underestimated the resistance of Khadafy, and overestimated the capacity of the [rebels]." It was misguided to believe that untrained and poorly equipped rebels would sweep 650 miles from their stronghold in Benghazi to Tripoli in the face of tanks, long-range artillery and sniper fire. Consequently, the rebels succeeded only after they received external support from Western military advisers - and large amounts of weapons provided by countries in violation of the UN arms embargo.