Although Muammar Gaddafi’s death is good news in the sense that it should enable the United States to terminate all military operations in Libya, while turning over responsibility for security in the country to the recognised leaders of the new government.
But Gaddafi’s death does not legitimise the original decision to launch military operations without authorisation from Congress. The military action against Libya did not advance a vital national security interest—a point that former secretary of defence Robert Gates emphasised at the time.
Gaddafi could have been brought down by the Libyan people, but the Obama administration’s decision to defeat him may now malign the US in the behaviour of the post-Gaddafi regime. That is fair for the American public, and to the Libyan people who can and must be held responsible for forming a new political order.
As we ponder the welcome news of Gaddafi’s capture, we should also recall the lessons from Iraq, and as they have played out in Libya. The fall of Baghdad in April 2003 did not signal the end of the Iraq war; likewise, the capture of Tripoli by anti-Gaddafi forces in August 2011 didn’t end the fighting there.