So he has finally fallen, the "Dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the Imam of all Muslims", as Colonel Qaddafi liked to call himself. And not only fallen, but reduced to slinking around the borders and seemingly preparing to flee the country in which he pledged to die rather than leave. The Nato-led operation in Libya appears so far to have had happy consequences, not only in having prevented a massacre in Benghazi and in stemming the "rivers of blood" the colonel promised to unleash upon those who dared rebel against his four decades of dictatorship, but also in allowing the country's population to decide their own destiny free from the grip of the "Brother Leader".
This is undoubtedly a moment of triumph for the people of Libya. It is, however, also being treated as an opportunity to crow by others who have a rather different agenda to push. According to the influential American neoconservative historian Robert Kagan: "By intervening, with force, the Nato alliance also demonstrated that the world's great democracies are powerful, capable of acting in unison, and, most important, still committed to acting in the world on behalf of their interests and their ideals." Success in Libya, in other words, is being taken by some as vindication of the most dangerous and deceptive foreign policy doctrine to emerge since the end of the Cold War: liberal interventionism.
It seems, on the surface, so benign. Who could possibly be against the "advance of liberty and hope as an alternative to the ideology of repression and fear"? That the author of those words was George W Bush, however, may provide pause for thought. For liberal interventionism has at its heart not just such lofty and abstract ideals but a very specific and much more rigid world view: that given the choice, every country would want nothing more than to be a western-style liberal democracy; and should a state take a different path, the US and its allies would be justified in taking steps to "force it to be free".
It may be objected that such an overly simplistic and hubristic formulation should be attributed not to well-meaning liberal interventionists, whose only desire is to do good, but to those cold-blooded, calculating neocons who were behind the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. But as the Harvard professor Stephen M Walt puts it: "The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on US power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance. Both groups extol the virtues of democracy. Both groups are deeply alarmed at the prospect that WMD might be in the hands of anybody but the United States and its closest allies, and both groups think it is America's right and responsibility to fix lots of problems all over the world."
What has happened in Libya may provide cause for optimism - only Colonel Qaddafi's very few friends will mourn his removal - but be in no doubt, this was an intervention that both bellicose liberals and more cynical neocons could support, and although the gamble appears to have paid off, it was, like similar ventures in the past, one taken hastily, instinctively (on the basis that "something must be done"), with no serious thought for what happened afterwards nor even the vaguest notion of how long it would last.
In March the British chancellor, George Osborne, predicted that the Libyan operation would cost the UK "tens of millions" of pounds; by June his deputy, Danny Alexander, had to admit the figure was more likely to be in the hundreds of millions. That same month the outgoing US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, tore into the lack of preparation that had gone into a mission that the British prime minister, David Cameron, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had insisted upon. "The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly-armed regime in a sparsely populated country," said Mr Gates, "yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference."
It will be easy for Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy, while they bask in the sunshine of approval, to forget those scathing words, just as other embarrassments, such as the fact that MI6 and the CIA appear to have been working alongside Col Qaddafi's security apparatus right up until the beginning of the revolt in Libya, will be skated over. But leave aside the compromises and the contradictions of how Col Qaddafi went from being "Mad Dog", to ally in the war on terror, then back to "Mad Dog" again in the space of a few years. The West has been very lucky. This intervention has worked out well. Others have not - as the families of the hundreds of thousands who have died in Iraq will not have forgotten, even if western pontificators with a renewed appetite for regime change prefer to gloss over past "collateral damage".
Meanwhile the aims that lie behind such actions - advancing the interests and ideals of "the great democracies", to quote Mr Kagan above - are not lost on the rest of the world that can only spectate when the western powers intervene. Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister of Malaysia from 1981-2003, described how he saw these ventures with typically pungent clarity in his autobiography, A Doctor in the House, published earlier this year. When the Europeans (by which he means "white Caucasians") adopt a "new system they would insist that it is the best, the most perfect", he wrote. "They would not only practise the system but would want everybody else to do the same. Currently they believe that democracy, the free market and a borderless world will create heaven on earth. They invade countries and kill people in order that democracy and its accompaniments be accepted by all. Millions are killed, millions more wounded and maimed, and whole countries devastated in the name of democracy and freedom."
All of this is not a counsel for inaction. The decision to protect the inhabitants of Benghazi by enforcing a no-fly zone was, in my opinion, correct. But the backing of the region, of Libya's neighbours and peers in the form of the Arab League, was crucial; and any action taken in the absence of that green light ran the risk of looking like arrogant meddling in the internal affairs of yet another Muslim state. The abysmal failure of Arab states - with the honourable exceptions of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in particular - to follow up with concrete measures to help protect the people of Libya from the wrath of their megalomaniac leader must be remedied in future. If countries or associations, such as the Arab League, Asean or the African Union, do not act when massacres are threatened on their doorstep, they prove the point of those who argue that only the West or the US have both the ability and the determination to step in.
Whether it is by persuasion, diplomatic or trade sanctions or, as a last resort, a peacekeeping military presence, intervention is sometimes right. But if it is not to be of the liberal-neocon variety, whose proponents often speak with a terrifying certainty about areas of the world of which they know little, let alone understand their traditions, customs and history, and which they are always intent on refashioning in the image of the West, however inappropriate that may be, then other countries must end their equivocating inertia. If what has transpired in Libya is to be welcomed, how much greater the accolades if it had been Arab states, and only Arab states, that had come to the aid of those who wished to end a tyrant's rule.
Instead, the laurels go to western leaders who will feel that little bit less restrained the next time they think a regime needs changing. As Prof Walt wrote in the piece I quoted above: "The neocon/liberal alliance will be emboldened and we'll be more likely to stumble into a quagmire somewhere else." That will be unfortunate for western states that waste hundreds of millions of dollars on conflicts that are not their business. For the countries involved, however, it is more likely to end in tragedy. Liberal interventionism has left too many corpses in its wake. We don't want it back.
Sholto Byrnes is a contributing editor of the New Statesman