Last week the world witnessed something all too rare: an evil, murderous dictator getting exactly what he deserved at the point of a gun. Muammar Qaddafi never had his day in court, but he wasn't particularly famous for giving due process to his many victims. The hundreds of Americans who died on Pan Am 103 can rest in peace, their killer having received his just deserts.
What's more interesting is this: for once America didn't have to pay the entire delivery bill. A few years back, we got to see Saddam Hussein meet his Maker, but what an appalling price was paid for that moment of justice! The tab for exceedingly expensive dictator-removal operations all the way back to Hitler and Tojo would be enough to make even Barack Obama blanch, and that's not including the cost of those which failed to actually remove the targeted thug, like Somalia and Iraq War 1.
No, despite our misgivings and whether by accident or design, the Obama administration seems to have scored a foreign-policy victory of a sort we haven't seen in well over a century: getting rid of an enemy of America without the cost of one American life, of significant American dollars, or even much diplomatic capital.
The Libyans got sick of their oppressor; the Europeans flew airstrikes and provided some ammo. We helped out a bit with logistics and intelligence, that's all, yet Mr. Obama can well and truly score an earned "Mission Accomplished." How's that for surprises!
There is still one difficulty with regime change on the cheap: you don't have much influence over what the regime gets changed to. For all his faults, Qaddafi wasn't much of an Islamist, nor particularly competent at expanding his empire beyond Libya itself.
His successors will be different, and quite possibly in ways we won't like. The new leader of Libya, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, recently announced that the oppressive and barbaric Islamic legal system known as sharia will be the primary basis of law in that unlucky land. More than that:
"Any law that violates sharia is null and void legally," he said, citing as an example the law on marriage passed during the slain dictator's 42-year tenure that imposed restrictions on polygamy, which is permitted in Islam.
"The law of divorce and marriage... This law is contrary to sharia and it is stopped."
There are many laws contrary to sharia - laws against beating your wife, laws permitting religions other than Islam, even laws punishing Muslims for murdering Jews and Christians. If, as Jalil said, all those laws are null and void, the new Libya will become a medieval hellhole far worse than languishing under Qaddafi.
Is this Mr. Obama's fault? Not totally: America was in no mood to get more involved with Libya than he did. Plus, we're basically running Afghanistan, yet its laws are every bit as vile. America hasn't done a good job of running other countries since Mr. Obama was in diapers and there's no reason to expect that sorry record to change anytime soon.
What Mr. Obama has provided, at admirably low cost, is a worthy geopolitical experiment: can a Muslim nation, its despot freshly ventilated, come up with a halfway humane regime on its own? If so, there might be hope for the Arab spring.
If not, that's something well worth knowing, as it will prove that propping up Mubarak, Ben Ali, and the rest of the anti-Islamic dictators really was the best thing to do under the circumstances - and we should start doing it again as effectively as possible with all deliberate speed.