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A Times Editorial

Death of a dictator; chance for a nation

Moammar Gadhafi's death marks the end of a murderous dictator, a fresh start for Libya and another milestone for the Arab world. The challenge for Libya's transitional leaders will be to channel the fury that in eight months enabled a ragtag rebel force to bring about the brutal end to Gadhafi's 42-year reign. The West made this day possible by attacking Gadhafi under the cover of a U.N. humanitarian mission, and now the allies should use their influence with Libya's new government to follow through on the promises for political, social and economic reforms.

Gadhafi was killed Thursday in an intense battle after rebel forces seized control of his hometown of Sirte, one of the last remaining loyalist holdouts. While Gadhafi's death may be a postscript on a revolution that has already come full circle, his swift and violent removal from the scene is a powerful break from the past for a nation whose leader called himself "king of the kings." Libyans celebrated Thursday, hoping that Gadhafi's death would bring an end to the civil war and new legitimacy to the transitional government. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a surprise visit to Libya only two days earlier to focus global attention on the reconstruction.

With Gadhafi gone, the rebels and their political arm have lost their main rallying point. They need to avoid the temptation to divvy up the spoils and should move quickly to centralize command of the security forces, repair the battered infrastructure of the oil economy and lay the foundation for elections and other steps to unify the country. Getting control of the militias is essential for preventing revenge attacks against former Gadhafi loyalists and instilling law and order. The government also needs to find the weapons looted from Gadhafi's outposts before those arms land in the hands of terrorists. Washington was right to steer immediate financial aid toward that effort.

President Barack Obama might have more support on Capitol Hill for a continuing role in Libya had he complied with the War Powers Act and sought congressional approval for U.S. military participation in the U.N. campaign against Gadhafi. Still, Congress should realize that the world community is better off without Gadhafi and with a stable, democratic and friendly Libya. The West needs to press consistently for the new government to promote human rights and political inclusion. Libyans are skeptical already; Washington embraced Gadhafi even after he became a pioneer of state-sponsored terrorism in a naive attempt to bring him into the fold. And the allies lost some leverage by recognizing the new government while its leaders and direction were largely unknown. But bringing stability to Libya, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world striving for freedom will require the West to remain engaged.

Gadhafi's death on Thursday brought the uprising by Libyans determined to control their destiny to a logical conclusion. It provides some measure of vindication for the Obama administration, which wisely resisted calls from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others for a larger military presence. And it leaves the world a safer place.

Death of a dictator; chance for a nation 10/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 6:19pm]
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