Thursday's U.N.-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya and the military strikes against Moammar Gadhafi's ground forces that followed over the weekend may have come too late for Libya's freedom-seeking people. Even a ceasefire or internationally imposed standoff between Gadhafi's forces and the anti-government fighters in Benghazi and elsewhere would merely maintain the status quo, with Gadhafi remaining in control of most of the country. If so, Gadhafi will have demonstrated to autocrats everywhere that terror is an effective means of maintaining power at home and instilling uncertainty and fear abroad. This should come as no surprise, as Gadhafi is not new to this kind of behavior.
Although he initially blamed al-Qaida for the populist uprising in Libya, Gadhafi is now threatening to team up with the group to wage an asymmetric war against the West. He has already resorted to using Tuareg revolutionaries -- previously trained by his government to sow conflict in sub-Saharan Africa -- in his efforts to put down the domestic uprising. "Libya wants to be at the pinnacle of the world," Gadhafi ranted last month in a speech that unleashed his violent campaign against rebel forces in the country's west and east. If it isn't, he warned, "everything will burn." In his own words, Gadhafi intends to represent a threat to the West, "not just in the short term, but also in the long term."
The U.S. is slowly but surely acknowledging the danger posed by Gadhafi's threatened return to state-sponsored terror. Undersecretary of State William Burns briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "if Gadhafi is successful, [the world faces] a number of considerable risks as well, including the danger of him returning to terrorism and violent extremism." Burns did not mince words, characterizing Gadhafi as presenting "a real danger of increasing violence and turmoil." John Brennan, the chief counterterrorism adviser to President Barack Obama, noted that terrorists have "a demonstrated track record of trying to exploit either political vacuums, or political change, or uncertainty in a number of countries throughout the world. Libya and the situation in Libya now will be no exception." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed it all up as: "Col. Gadhafi will do terrible things."