In Our View: Arab Autumn

Continued leadership by the U.S. is needed after the death of Moammar Gadhafi

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What began as “Arab Spring” with the toppling of tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt is — to the world’s benefit — turning into more than just a season. Whoever created that term should’ve known that the human spirit’s yearning for freedom transcends all seasons.

The killing of Moammar Gadhafi on Thursday should be seen as more than just a death. It also creates another cradle for democracy. How that democracy grows from its birth in Libya will be determined in part by the country’s interim National Transitional Council, but also by the continued diplomatic assistance of the United States, Britain and France. As leaders of the NATO coalition that supported Gadhafi’s demise, these three nations must remain vigilant against any climb to power by extremist forces.

The most dramatic transformation in centuries is rocking the Arab world. This is a momentous opportunity that, if squandered, could collapse into the free world’s failure to help oppressed people liberate and govern themselves.

As in all aspects of American government, spending overseas can and should be reduced during this extended economic crisis. But the evolving and increasing fragility of governments in northern Africa and western Asia demand steadfast guard against the rise of any rogue regimes. This means more than just protecting the interests of the U.S., Britain and France. It also means nurturing the people of the Middle East beyond their respective cradles. Relentless demonstrations in virtually every nation of that region prove the people want democracy. They deserve it.

By the same token, though, perhaps ultimately the U.S. could extract commitments from these infant democracies that enhance or even supplant the commitment of American taxpayers. We remember thinking Iraq would reimburse us with oil. Somehow, we don’t think any invoices to them, if sent, were ever paid. At least not yet. We also remember that Libya is one of the richest oil producers in the Arab world.

Notice how it took less than half a day Thursday for NATO leaders to announce they would immediately begin planning an end to the airstrike support of Libyan rebels. Such a sudden military shift is not always possible, but in this case, the swiftness with which it could unfold is encouraging and commendable. Part of that praise is due President Obama, who early on announced that the U.S. would support replacing the tyrant Gadhafi, but in no way should be viewed as the lone avenger. As bad as things turned out for Gadhafi, they could not have turned out much better for Obama. The U.S. helped overthrow the dictator at no small financial cost to Americans, but without the loss of a single American life.

With the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs in Pakistan, and then the Sept. 30 killing of terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, Obama has upheld the American commitment to continue fighting evil around the world. The stature of the United States is strengthened by these advancements in foreign affairs.

Life in Libya today is clumsy, but it’s a lot more worth living than yesterday. Can the brightness last? After all, tyranny swoops into every available vacuum. Three vacuums already exist in northern Africa. More are developing to the east and northeast. America’s dual obligations to the people of the Middle East must be clearly and repeatedly declared: First, we will help you find freedom. Second, and long-term, your freedom will slowly nudge the U.S. out of your everyday lives.

That’s how liberty works. No nation is better qualified — or should be more willing — to ignite freedom’s flame than the United States.