The 42-year reign of power and terror of Muammar Gaddafi/Kaddafi came to an end yesterday with the fall of Sirte and his death. It is unclear at this point whether he died from wounds received in his capture or was executed afterwards. Here is a link with an embedded video purporting to be the confession of a Libyan rebel who executed him. It makes little real difference. Gaddafi (I'm seen probably a dozen different spellings of his name in English) was one of the world's longest-serving heads of state. His reign goes back to the Nasserist era when pan-Arabism was king in the Arab world and military dictators were all the rage. His fall is also the biggest victory of the Arab Spring (or al-intifada al-Arabiya or al-thawra al-Arabiya if you prefer) to date. Previously the heads of state had changed in Egypt and Tunisia, but at least in the former the military regime remains in place.
For months now the Syrian opposition has been calling for the West to double-down and mount a military offensive against the Ba'athist Assad regime as it had aided the rebels in Libya. But this was not on the cards for two reasons. First, Italy was threatened with an influx of illegal immigrants from Libya if Gaddafi remained in power. Second, Gaddafi had created scores to be settled by many Western governments by his indiscriminate use of terrorism. Whereas Assad pere and Assad fils believed in the discriminate use of terrorism against their regime's most dangerous enemies at home and in occupied Lebanon. Damascus carried out no Lockerbies, Gaddafi carried out at least two--against the U.S. in December 1988 and against France in Septermber 1989. He also supported the IRA for decades--he was the Provisional IRA's only governmental supporter abroad. This contributed to hundreds of deaths in Northern Ireland and Britain from the tons of Semtex explosive and the hundreds of assault rifles that he exported to Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s. Thus, at least four governments felt that they had an incentive to get rid of him when the opportunity arose. Such is not the case with the Assad regime, or with any other regime in the Arab world at the moment. See this discussion with George H.W. Bush official Richard Haass on why Libya isn't a precedent.
Gaddafi was always the leader of a weak, thinly -populated country that was not a major player in inter-Arab affairs. Rather than use his oil wealth to improve the lot of his population, he used it mainly to play at enhancing his influence in Africa and the Middle East by supporting rebel movements and rulers in neighboring countries. President Idi Amin Dada of Uganda was an early recipient of such aid when Gaddafi sent troops to fight alongside Uganda's against invading Tanzanian troops in 1979. But the Libyan soldiers performed rather poorly. In the 1980s he was preoccupied with influencing politics in neighboring Chad, one of the poorest countries in Africa, as well as supporting the Abu Nidal organization, a terrorist organization that broke from Fatah and specialized in assassinating any Palestinian who spoke of peace with Israel. This was after Abu Nidal had left Iraq and then Syria. Gaddafi liked to sound more Palestinian than the Palestinians, rejecting any prospects of peace with Israel. But Israel never really bothered with him because he was never considered a serious threat--certainly much less of a threat than the Palestinian rejectionist terror organizations, Iraq, and Syria. Here is a link to an article that attempts to explain Gaddafi's eccentric behavior.
The Western press always treated him as a buffoon rather than as a serious figure. But this disguised that he had much in common with his fellow Arab dictators like Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak in Egypt, Hafiz and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Like these other dictators he either took power in a coup or inherited it from a predecessor who had taken power in a coup--Gaddafi carried out his when Libya's King Idris was outside the country undergoing an operation. He spoke of power deriving from the people but maintained a ruthless security apparatus. He was a Soviet client until Moscow could no longer supply his needs. And most of his oil wealth was used to create a large military and thus appease the supporters who put him in the palace and might be tempted to replace him.
I predict that the Arab Spring will now go into hibernation while the "new" regimes in Egypt and Tunisia attempt to consolidate themselves through elections and while the new Libyan regime attempts to reconstruct and repair the damage from the war against the dictator.