The recitation of Qaddafi’s murderous past is beside the point right now.
Let’s look at what has changed from before to after in this Libyan moment:
1. Before: Obama (Cf. Andrew McCarthy) had continued and increased the American outreach to Qaddafi that began under Bush after Qaddafi gave up his nuclear program and agreed to cooperate in the pursuit of terrorists.
2. After: Qaddafi’s rehabilitation is over, at least as far as he is concerned. He was a fossil, Obama has breathed new life into him, and now he will be dangerous to the U.S. and the West again, even after he is dead. If he doesn’t have revanchist asymmetrical attacks already in the pipeline, then he’s not Qaddafi.
3. Before: Ragtag rebels, who had already stepped outside of the “Arab Spring” model of mass protest, likely positioned for Islamist dominance by jihadis in their ranks, probably encouraged by U.S. operators on the ground, got a big injection of U.S. military steroids and knew briefly the exhilaration of seeing a possible victory over Qaddafi on the horizon.
4. After: The NY Times reports the other day that a “senior” (what could that mean in this context?) rebel leader expressed frustration with NATO bureaucracy (the military steroids were being withdrawn). Soon the rebels will revive their hatred of the U.S. and other Western infidels; they will have been betrayed.
So, before the declaration in early March that Qaddafi must go, he was rehabilitated, perhaps too optimistically so, but the U.S. had stopped provoking him and he was doing his best not to provoke the U.S. Now he will probably do anything he can to get revenge, outsourcing it through impossible to trace pathways.
Among the rebels, the jihadis who always hated the U.S. are now building credibility for their case that the U.S. is especially treacherous in friendship. They can even say, to make their point, “Look how they treated Qaddafi.”
So, what has Obama accomplished? Well, both sides in the civil war will no doubt share his animus toward the United States. I don’t think that he will be uncomfortable with that outcome, if it wasn’t his goal from the beginning.