As of this writing, we do not know what has become of Moammar Gadhafi, memorably described by Ronald Reagan as "the mad dog of the Middle East." Whatever may befall him, Gadhafi has been courting an unpleasant fate for decades.
Rebels in Gadhafi's Libya now control nearly all of Tripoli, although Gadhafi's loyalists are still resisting. Gadhafi, himself, is nowhere to be found. He will turn up eventually. But for those who dispute America's right to help dislodge him, it's worth recalling some of the atrocities with which Gadhafi has been linked:
His regime was responsible for the 1988 bombing that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, mostly Americans. Earlier this year, Gadhafi's former justice minister claimed to have proof that Gadhafi, himself, ordered the bombing.
Two years earlier, a Berlin disco frequented by American servicemen was bombed, killing three people and injuring 229. The attack was traced to Libya and in reprisal then-President Reagan conducted an air strike against Gadhafi's government.
There is plenty more blood on Gadhafi's resume, including that of his own people. It is true that Gadhafi moderated his behavior in recent years, including giving up the country's nuclear program. But he retained tons of chemical weapons and brutally suppressed any dissent at home.
Although the United States had good reason to help undermine his regime, that doesn't automatically mean it was wise for the United States to join in this year's effort to support the rebels trying to overthrow the dictator. Yet the rebels did rise up against Gadhafi. When the opportunity came to remove him from power, the United States government didn't need to think long to find legitimate reasons to support the rebels. Gadhafi has been living on borrowed time for decades.
What comes next is unknowable, but the difficulties are real. After four decades of tyrannical rule, there is no real reason to believe democracy as we know it will flower in this spot on the North African coast.
But having taken part in Gadhafi's downfall, the United States, Great Britain, France -- and the rest of Europe, for that matter -- certainly have a responsibility to offer their assistance, as requested, and to encourage the country toward the kind of openness that creates economic and social linkages to the wider world.