All civil wars are of course different, but half a year does not constitute a long conflict aimed at unseating an entrenched regime. Think of the long guerilla war in South Africa that, along with international pressure, brought down the South African apartheid regime. Or the fourteen year long struggle that removed the Communist government from power in Afghanistan.
Here’s a timeline of how things developed in Libya, from the initial protests to the outbreak of civil war and the NATO-led military intervention on behalf of the rebels, with key points of commentary from U.S. politicos included.
Feb. 15/16 – The arrest of a human rights activist sparks demonstrations that devolve into riots in the Western city of Benghazi.
Feb. 17 – Demonstrators declare a national Day of Rage.
Feb. 23 – A day after the first high-level diplomatic defections at the U.N., the Qaddafi regime loses power in Benghazi, long a hot-seat of opposition, and rebels begin to form an opposition council.
Feb. 24 – President Barack Obama issued a statement on Libya, saying: “The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and unacceptable. These actions violate international norms and common decency. It must stop. We strongly support the universal rights of the Libyan people.”
Feb. 26 – The U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions on the Qaddafi regime for its crackdown on demonstrators. Two days later, the E.U. follows suit.
Mar. 8 – Former Speaker Newt Gingrich predicts that “NATO…won’t bring much to the fight,” and disregards the importance of U.N. support for U.S. airstrikes in Libya.
Mar. 11 – Soon-to-be GOP presidential candidate (now out of the race) Tim Pawlenty dismisses international coalition building, saying he’s “not overly concerned about our popularity ratings in Europe or the Middle East.”
Mar. 17 – The U.N. Security Council approves a no fly zone over Libya that calls for any necessary means to protect innocent civilians from being slaughtered.
Mar. 19 – The first international airstrikes against Qaddafi’s forces halt their advance on the opposition stronghold of Benghazi.
Mar. 21 – Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Dick Lugar criticizes the U.S.’s involvement in Libya: “I do not understand the mission because as far as I can tell in the United States there is no mission and there are no guidelines for success.”
Mar. 28 – Bryan Fischer of The American Family Association, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), and Islamophobic blogger Pamela Geller all parrot Qaddafi’s talking point that Al Qaeda is behind the Libyan rebel uprising.
Apr. 3 – Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) calls for the Obama administration to arm Libyan rebels and predicts that the current policy would “lead to a stalemate.”
Apr. 22 – GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized Obama for “mission creep and mission muddle” in Libya for extending the NATO humanitarian mission to support for the Libyan rebel aim of ousting Qaddafi, echoing John Bolton that the move would incur a “massive strategic failure.”
Apr. 24 – Bill Kristol complains that “we’re bombing from 25,000 feet…it’s ridiculous,” and criticized Obama for not utilizing slower, lower flying aircraft that are easier to shoot down. “You can’t get involved in a military action like this though and be totally driven by fear of one American pilot getting shot down. It’s just wrong, in my opinion,” said Kristol.
Apr. 25 – A New Yorker article quotes an Obama aide saying the president is “leading from behind” on Libya. Despite the quote’s provenance with iconic South African president Nelson Mandela, it becomes a top talking point for neoconservative attacks on U.S. policy.
Apr. 26 – Sarah Palin criticizes Obama through a Facebook wall post: “Simply put, what are we doing there? You’ve put us in a strategic no man’s land.”
Apr. 30 – A NATO missile strike kills one of Qaddafi’s sons.
May 8 – Former vice president Dick Cheney tells Fox News that “the policy of the administration has been to hope for Qaddafi’s departure but not be prepared to do enough to make sure it happens.” He adds: “It’s not clear to me that this administration is up to the task” of taking out Qaddafi.
May 10 – GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty says he would have “[told] Qaddafi he’s got X number of days to get his affairs in order and go of we’re going to go get him,” instead of limiting U.S. involvement to airstrikes.
June 20 – The Bill Kristol-led Foreign Policy Initiative calls for House Republicans to push Obama to expand U.S. involvement in Libya, writing that Obama “has done too little to achieve the goal of removing Qaddafi from power.”
June 24 – Spearheaded by the House GOP, a bill passes the lower chamber limiting funds for U.S. military action in LIbya. House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesperson said the bill would “restrict funds for the remainder of the fiscal year but in a responsible way.”
June 27 – Based on a U.N. Security Council recommendation, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for Qaddafi and key members of his regime.
July 15 – The U.S. recognizes the Transitional National Council (TNC) rebel alliance as the government of Libya.
July 27 – The United Kingdom recognizes the rebel government and ousts three remaining Qaddafi diplomats in London.
Aug. 14 – Days after taking the oil town of Brega, crippling another source of funds for Qaddafi, rebels seize Zawiyah, another Qaddafi stronghold near Tripoli.
Aug. 21 – Rebels move into Tripoli, Qaddafi’s remaining stronghold, arresting two of his sons. They are greeted there by celebrations in the capital’s central Martyr’s Square (Green Square’s pre-Qaddafi name).
Today, Qaddafi remains at large but his rule over Libya appears to have come to an end. While the difficult road lays ahead of the North African nation shouldn’t be underestimated, the ouster of a brutal dictator marks a historic day for the people of Libya. (Some dates were drawn from a Reuters timeline.)