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Posted: Sunday, October 23, 2011 12:00 am

Say this for Moammar Gadhafi: He vowed to go down fighting, and he did. At any point in the last eight months, he could have bailed out of Libya for a comfortable exile — in Saudi Arabia, perhaps, or some other state unlikely to turn him over to the International Criminal Court.

Instead, he had holed up in Sirte, his hometown and the last remaining stronghold of his dwindling band of supporters. On Thursday, as Sirte was overrun by the insurgency that toppled his government, Gadhafi was captured and — video aired on Libya’s Al-Ahrar network indicates — summarily executed.

When the uprising against him began in February, Gadhafi had vowed to die as a martyr. But martyrs need a cause and followers, and it’s not clear that Gadhafi will qualify.

Thus was the ignoble end of one of the strangest and most vicious national leaders in modern history. It came as no surprise. Since mid-March, when NATO forces enlisted on the side of the rebels, slowly escalating their involvement from enforcing a no-fly zone to providing air support and covert tactical advice, Gadhafi’s days had been numbered.

Libya now must grope its way from a revolutionary state to a functional state. The insurgency is a badly organized collection of individual interests, all of whom now are heavily armed, so that could take some time. And there’s little to build upon. During his 42-year rule, Gadhafi systematically destroyed every civil institution in the country.

Still, Libya has the ninth-largest oil reserves in the world. The nation will have no shortage of friends willing to help.

Already, the interim government has restored production to 350,000 barrels per day, and the new chairman of the state-owned oil company says production will return to pre-revolution levels of 1.6 million barrels a day by late next year.

Cash is mounting up at $35 million a day in internationally administered government accounts. Schools and shops are reopening. Now required is a government to decide how to spend that money fairly.

The leaders of the interim National Transition Council promised to resign once Sirte was taken. That has happened; we’ll see if that promise is kept.

International groups, under United Nations auspices, must set up and administer a fair election process. Libyans, most of whom never have known any form of government but tyranny, then will decide where on the continuum between a secularist state and a purely Islamic state they want to land.

In Syria on Thursday, demonstrators again took to the streets to warn President Bashar al-Assad that his turn was coming.

These insurgencies are a two-edged sword for the United States. We support the right of people to live free from tyranny, but we had learned to live with most Arab governments, however horrible. What will come after them is by no means guaranteed to be more in our interests.

It is a time for great wisdom and diplomacy, something to consider as next year’s election approaches.

This editorial appeared Thursday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.



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