With news reports (tweets) suggesting that Moammar Qadhafi’s regime is about to fall – or at least lose Tripoli – upheaval in the Middle East is again in the headlines. (Should we be startled that NATO was startled? Or is this just more evidence of the difficulties of political prediction?)
If Qadhafi goes, Arab reformists may receive a little boost. With Bahrain’s crackdown and the Assad regime’s continued hold on power in Syria, political reform had stalled or been pushed back after the early, dramatic gains in Tunisia and Egypt.
Of course much will depend on what follows Qadhafi. If the rebels’ National Transitional Council (NTC) can maintain unity and engineer a relatively smooth and reform-friendly transition in Libya, the images will be positive and perhaps empowering to other reformists. If, however, the NTC fractures and fighting breaks out among rival rebel groups, Libya will serve as a model for the dangers of change. (One could also argue that the outcome of any given uprising has been driven largely by local and national factors, not transnational and international ones.)
The Obama administration will doubtless be pleased to see Qadhafi go and will likely claim credit for supporting the NATO military operation that contributed to his downfall. Could the operation serve as a new model for much smaller U.S. commitments to military intervention? (and is it a good thing if the Obama administration takes a lesson that small military interventions can work?)
In any case, Qadhafi’s fall would be the exit strategy critics had complained was lacking in US and NATO policy. Small given all of Obama’s other problems (economy!), but a helpful blip nonetheless.