Libya was free.
Fighting still raged in parts of Tripoli Monday, as Moammar Khadafy's last few tanks rumbled out of his Bab al-Azizyah stronghold compound and snipers and artillery fire sent jubilant residents scurrying from the city center streets where they'd been celebrating the rebels' arrival. Rebels fighters battled pockets of Khadafy loyalists around the city, but most analysts agreed: Khadafy was finished.
In Benghazi, the leader of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, told reporters that while Libya still faced many challenges, Moammar Khadafy's reign of terror was over.
Khadafy himself was nowhere to be found.
"We will provide him with a fair trail," Jalil said of the dictator. "But I have no idea how he will defend himself against these crimes that he committed against the Libyan people and the world."
Despite street celebrations upon the arrival of rebel forces Sunday, the military situation in Tripoli remained tenuous. Rebel commanders told Al-Jazeera they controlled 80% of the city, but Khadafy loyalists were still hunkered down in strongholds and snipers made venturing outside dangerous.
"No one can go in or out," a rebel fighter told Al-Jazeera. "Everyone who has an underground basement, the people, women and children, the wounded, have been staying there."
For all those who had wondered, this was what the end game in Libya looked like.
After months of back-and-forth fighting, after finally securing Zawiyah and encircling the capitol on all sides, after weeks of Khadafy's top aides and ministers fleeing to Tunisia and Egypt, after the crack Kamis Brigade retreated toward the city and their base was overrun, the rebel column, supported by NATO attack planes wheeling overhead, streamed into Tripoli Sunday with shocking speed.
Speaking from Martha's Vineyard, MA, where he was on vacation, President Barack Obama announced late Sunday, "There remains a degree of uncertainty, and there are still regime elements who still pose a threat. But, this much is clear: The Khadafy regime is coming to an end, and the future of Libya is in the hands of its people."
"To our friends and allies, the Libyan intervention demonstrates what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one," Obama said. "And the Arab members of our coalition have stepped up and shown what can be achieved when we act together as equal partners."
"Finally, the Libyan people: Your courage and character have been unbreakable in the face of a tyrant," Obama said.
Throughout the Libyan intervention, Obama had been vexed by pacifist liberals who opposed the use of force under any circumstances; by hawks who agitated for a more robust American presence in the fighting; and, most of all, by opportunist Republican obstructionists who opposed any move the President made.
Led by 225 Republicans, Congress refused to authorize U.S. military action in support of the Libya intervention by a 295-70 margin. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed a bill defunding the Libya operation, but the measure was rejected when 89 Republicans deemed it unseemly to abandon their forces and allies France and Britain, and joined with Democrats to defeat it.
Boehner's efforts, however, did gain him a smoochy, smoochy love tome from Khadafy, who thanked him for his aid and comfort. Shockingly, Boehner wasn't lined up against a bullet-pocked wall and given a blindfold and a cigarette for his treachery during a shooting war.
Obama pressed ahead, doggedly supporting France and Britain as the intervention that was supposed to end in weeks carried on for months. "Leading from behind," as one Obama staffer described the President's middle course in the fight against the dictator, became a lightening rod of ridicule and scorn, as hawks demanded direct American airstrikes and boots on the ground, while everyone else demanded America leave Libya to its own devices.
Yet, with America strapped for cash at home, in the end the results made it hard to argue with Obama's excruciatingly centrist middle course. The Politico reported that the Libya intervention cost little more than a billion dollars through mid-summer, an amount the old saw claimed no one would even bother to pick up if it fell on the floor in the Pentagon. American forces flew just 16% of the sorties and sent no ground troops.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a statement that said, "we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower." It was not immediately known how much the duo regretted not expending the billions of additional dollars such an air campaign would have cost, to say nothing of the possible loss of air crews.
At least McCain and Graham were consistent. The Twitterverse was filled with hypocreets.
Rep. Ben Quayle (R-AZ) tweeted, "The fall of the Khadafy regime would be a victory for freedom."
Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) crowed, "Libyan rebels control Green Square. Let us pray for a peaceful formation of a representative government."
Both had been among the 295 lawmakers who had voted against authorizing the Libyan intervention.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) wrote, "Great to see these images of liberated parts of Tripoli. Hopeful that a new free democratic govt will form in Libya." Blunt had been scathing in his criticism of Obama, first denouncing the Libya intervention, then demanding more aggressive involvement.
"Whenever the President of the United States authorizes a military intervention, he must clearly define the goal and mission of our involvement." Blunt wrote on Mar. 28. "Unfortunately, President Obama has failed to meet this criteria..."
By Mar. 31, Blunt wanted to arm the rebels. "If you put planes in the air...to level the playing field, it doesn't hurt to give some advantage to the side you're trying to help."
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) issued a statement that said, "it is doubtful that U.S. interests would be served by imposing a no-fly zone over Libya."
"We need a broader public discussion about the goals and limits of the U.S. role in the Middle East, especially as it pertains to potential military intervention," Lugar opined, a sudden convert to end-game anxiety.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), one of the 295 who voted against authorizing the Libya intervention, was another end-game skeptic. He told Fox News the action, "risks entrenching the United States in a humanitarian mission whose scope and duration are not known... and cannot be controlled by us."
"The President should immediately return home and call Congress back into session so that this action can be fully debated," Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) pontificated. At the time, Khadafy had been threatening to have his troops go house to house through Benghazi murdering the residents.
"We have seen uprisings across the Middle East...and in many instances, atrocities have been committed," Miller, another 295er, said. "One must now ask where this administration draws the line."
All of which was quite understandable considering the hostilities were being directed at a billionaire oil magnate who was George W. Bush's 'valued ally' in his 'War on Terra.' To say nothing of the smoochy love tomes the dictator sent Boehner.
Besides, Republicans doubtless didn't know what an end game looked like, as they never finished either of the two open-ended wars Bush started. Perhaps Republicans considered shovelling unlimited taxpayer dollars into Halliburton Corp. coffers ad infinitum an end game in and of itself.
In Tripoli, the end game included a maniacal tyrant MIA, his forces penned into last-stand enclaves, and jubilant rebels celebrating in Green Square. It included a city of 700,000, Benghazi, spared a genocidal massacre. It included cities and towns liberated from the yoke of a bloodthirsty dictator.
"An ocean divides us, but we are joined in the basic human longing for freedom, for justice, and for dignity," Obama said to Libyans. "Your revolution is your own, and your sacrifices have been extraordinary. Now, the Libya you deserve is within your reach."