As you may have heard, something happened today in Libya.
While Qaddafi's whereabouts are a mystery, no one is pretending that he matters tonight. He might be in his palace. He might be in Algeria. He might be in Venezuela. What's clear at this point is that nobody in Libya is paying their former dictator any mind anymore. Instead, all eyes are on the cheering masses in Tripoli.
First and foremost, the collapse of the Qaddafi regime is good news for the Libyan people.
That's even true when you take all the uncertainties ahead into account. There's already a certain brand of naysayer running about, saying things to the effect of "But this was the easy part!" and reminding us that the whole country could still devolve into tribal violence. These people aren't totally wrong. Libya could still descend into protracted internecine conflict among the opposition forces. There are by all accounts serious historical tensions among the Libyan tribes, and particularly, between the eastern and western halves of the country. Nobody knows what happens next.
With that said, the signs are as encouraging as they could be. The transitional council has announced its intention to pursue a peaceful transition to a new government, and signaled that it has already laid the groundwork for a new constitution and elections. That's a far cry from actually effecting the transition, but it's what you would want to hear at this stage. It's also very important that Tripoli seems to have finished off Qaddafi more or less on its own, rising up and sloughing off the dictator. This way, it joins the new government as an equal partner, not a subjugated region. If Tripoli's residents had resisted the rebellion, and the rebels had been forced to lay siege to the city, the prospects for a peaceful post-Qaddafi transition would have been much diminished.
But it's also worth noting that the transition would have been uncertain in any circumstance. Look at Egypt: its revolution was as peaceful as could be imagined, and happened totally independent of Western intervention. And yet the country's future remains cloudy, at best. No one, however, is arguing that Egypt would be better off under Mubarak. If the Libyan revolution ends in further bloodshed, that doesn't prove that the revolution was foolish, or that NATO was foolish to assist the rebels. It was always going to be a gamble, and with Qaddafi gone, it's now clear that the gamble was worth taking.
It might be unseemly, but I'm also going to take the briefest of victory laps here. I've been for intervention in Libya since the beginning, and have occasionally been pretty irritated with fellow progressives for their knee-jerk opposition to the war. Few of them seemed to believe this day could ever come, or that NATO could successfully backstop the rebels without eventually landing troops on Libyan soil or otherwise getting sucked deeper into the conflict. Few of them wanted to admit that saving Libyan lives was worth the cost of US bombs. So for me, today's news is a little bit of personal vindication.
But it should be heartening for everyone else, too: it's a reminder that the rich, democratic nations of the world have agency as a force for good. We don't always have to sit on the sidelines while dictators inflict atrocities on their own people. Not all interventions are good, smart, or successful, of course. Recently, however, many people on both sides of the political spectrum seem to have adopted the belief that any attempt to forcefully interfere in world affairs would inevitably sour against us. These people seemed to believe the best possible outcome would always be the one that the west generally, and America specifically, had the smallest role in creating. Libya suggests these people are wrong, and that's something that should make any advocate for human rights happy.