At Open Democracy, Mark Taylor writes:
The demonstrators at the heart of the Arab spring have redefined the political space in their countries and as a result laid down a new dividing-line in the region. No longer is the political contest between east and west, Muslim against the rest, or pro- or anti-imperialist, humanitarian intervention versus regime change. The dividing-line in the region today is between democratic revolution or counter-revolution.
The new reality means that, for most in the region, the United States and its allies will be judged by their actions and whether these support or forestall democratic change. This change has forced outside powers to adapt and the Libyan intervention is the most dramatic example of this. In stark contrast to only a few weeks ago, not to intervene in Libya would have transformed the struggle in the region into one that defined the fight for democracy as a fight against the US. The US would have been blamed squarely for the defeat of democracy and, because of the changed political landscape, that would have been devastating for US interests in the region.
Doing nothing and allowing the Libyan opposition to be slaughtered held the potential for a backlash that would undermine all US-backed regimes, including Saudi Arabia (in Hillary Clinton’s mind, the violence of Gaddafi probably also raised the spectre of repeating Bill Clinton’s mistake on Rwanda).
The US, long a supporter of dictators in the region, had no good option in Libya. Instead, it chose the less bad one, one which held the possibility of staying on the right side of this story for now – and provided cover in advance for the fact that it will almost certainly be on the wrong side in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and even Syria.