Way back last Spring, when this Libya business started, we were told that NATO was going to intervene in a very limited way for the sole purpose of protecting civilians. Some NATO spokesmen went so far as to state that the rebels as well as the loyalists would be subject to action if they attacked civilians. We were also told that the US involvement was even more limited - strictly a supporting role, and definitely not "hostilities".
Within a few days, the purpose had changed - the objective was to bring down the Gadhafi regime, and NATO was openly coordinating with the rebels. As stories came out of rebels targeting black civilians, and substantial collateral damage, we heard less and less about protecting civilians and more about democracy and regime change. By mid-Summer the talk was mostly about regime change, and oh yeah, democracy too, maybe.
By the time Fall rolled around, we'd personalized the conflict, like we always do. It was now about getting Qaddafi himself, and his family. Now that he's been killed, we're seeing triumphant declarations that vengeance has been obtained for Pan Am Flight 103, as if that had been the purpose of the whole exercise.
So what, you say - Khadafy was a terrorist and a tyrant, the world's better off without him, and our President can proudly claim another trophy in the War on Terrorism, again outperforming his feckless predecessor.
What's wrong with that view? A lot.
First of all, either we were engaged in hostilities, or we weren't. You can't have it both ways. If it is now claimed that we were engaged, that is an implicit admission that the dispute over the War Powers Resolution was not a case of differing opinions, but an intentional and dishonest evasion of constitutional limits. If it is claimed that we were not engaged, then our contribution to this great "victory" was minor at best.
Second, the introduction of Pan Am 103 as a supposed motivation for targetting Qadhafy and family. I don't know what was privately agreed to in that deal where the UK and others accepted $10M per victim compensation to the families, followed by opening up of Libya to foreign investment in oil extraction. But I'm fairly sure the deal wasn't "and by the way, Muammar, we'll continue to try and kill you whenever we have a chance". There's an excellent case to be made that we should never have made such a deal with a terrorist and dictator, but once the deal was made, it was made. You can bring up plenty of other reasons to take out Khaddafi but either the deal was immoral, or reneging on the deal was immoral. You can't have it both ways.
Third, and most importantly, this idea that we can measure progress by how many Big Name Evil Leaders we kill - always with bonus points for the kids - is fundamentally mistaken. In the particular case of Gaddafi, he was already defanged with respect to international terrorism. It's possible that getting him will cause the violence in Libya to rapidly ramp down, but it's also possible that (just like in Iraq) the causes go deeper than just one bad guy at the top. I think Obama understands this but it's not clear his supporters do.
But by all means, enjoy your victory.