After Qaddafi

Daniel Byman examines America's national interest:

Libya is not a close U.S. ally. While Libya is an important oil producer, and while it does assist U.S. counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaida and its allies, the decades of hostility and the bizarre nature of Qaddafi's rule have limited the rapprochement that has occurred in the last decade or so. So while policymakers worry that a post-Mubarak Egypt or a democratic Bahrain may be more hostile to the United States, in Libya there is a sense that a new regime can't be any worse.

That is always dangerous thinking in the Middle East, where bad regimes were often succeeded by worse ones. The chaos in Libya and the lack of unity among the opposition also raise the risk that strife could become a sustained civil war, with thousands more dying. For now, however, it seems right to hope that Libya will follow Egypt and Tunisia, even though there is little the United States can do to make this happen.