A reader makes an obvious point:
Let's say Qaddafi leaves today. Libyans are probably going to continue to fight, because there won't be a consensus about what the new state should look like. Even if people agreed on what the state should look like, who will run it would be a very contentious issue in a society where tribal loyalties run deep.
That's exactly what happened in Iraq. We caught Saddam and executed him, and then we had all kinds of trouble with Sadr and other people. Sadr hated Saddam and was glad to see him go, but that didn't mean he liked us or that he'd support the new US-backed government. It was naive to think that capturing Saddam would end the resistance. And it's naive to think that the departure or capture of Qaddafi, which appears to be imminent, will end the fighting in Libya.
It's also naive to think that Libyans will be able to settle deep political differences peacefully in the total absence of any institutions or political traditions that would help them to do it.
The important thing in Washington, however, is to maintain total amnesia about the recent past for fear it might impede people's careers and credibility. Remember: this is a town where the advocates for the Iraq fiasco have paid no political price and ignored every significant lesson. This is a town where Paul Wolfowitz is as respected as ever, where Bill Kristol remains influential, and where no senior former officials ever acknowledge a single mistake (see the auto-biographies of Bush and Rumsfeld).
(Photo: Libyan rebels prepare before leaving Ajdabiya to the front line near the oil town of Brega, as the West backed off from arming the rag-tag fighters and pushed for a political solution instead, on April 1, 2011. By Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)