No matter how long it takes to find Muammar Gaddafi, it is now relatively easy to draw up a scorecard on the six-month conflict in Libya and anoint the winners and losers. The biggest winners are, of course, the Libyan people who, with the help of the international community, rode the wave that started in Tunisia and Cairo and overthrew their own dictator. Whatever the final outcome of the current turmoil in the country, it can hardly be worse than the previous 42 years.
A second group of winners includes Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Barack Obama. It was the leaders of France and the U.K. who persuaded the U.S. President to press for a U.N. mandate to intervene in Libya, and it was Obama who supplied the firepower without which no intervention could have succeeded. At a time when none of the three leaders is faring well in opinion polls in their own countries, the success of their Libya campaign must provide some measure of consolation.
And, finally, international organizations, ranging from the U.N. and the International Criminal Court to the Arab League, can congratulate themselves for a nearly perfect antipode to the Iraqi fiasco. The multilateral mechanisms worked, regional support held steady, the cost was high but not nearly of the magnitude of Iraq, and the return to normality in Libya appears relatively near. Compared with 2003, there is a world of difference.
The losers are also easy to identify. Gaddafi, his family and cronies now cower or flee like cowards. Their supporters and enablers face ignominy. In the U.S. and Europe, those who opposed what was originally a humanitarian intervention meant to avoid a massacre in Benghazi and which evolved toward a regime-change operation all emerged with tarnished reputations. Germany abstained on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the use of force to protect civilian lives; it also refused to participate in the NATO campaign. Both for domestic political reasons and a miscalculation on the probability of success, Angela Merkel kept her distance. In hindsight, she was wrong.
Similarly, countries like China and Russia, although they did not use their veto to crush Resolution 1973, did not fare well in this affair. Their sympathy for the Gaddafi regime was as evident as their hostility to the principle of "responsibility to protect," an idea floating around international and nongovernmental organizations for some time now, which places concern for human rights over a country's sovereignty.
But perhaps the biggest losers outside of the Gaddafi family were those countries that explicitly opposed the very notion of intervention by the international community to protect civilians and remove dictators, even with a multilateral mandate. There were two categories of such opponents: the shameless supporters of the Libyan regime and the shameful fence-sitters who waffled endlessly.
The opposition of countries in the first group — Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — was predictable, and largely irrelevant. More important were the positions adopted by three key nations that have been seeking positions of world leadership. Brazil and India both abstained on Resolution 1973, and South Africa only voted in favor after Obama personally called President Jacob Zuma.
To its credit, South Africa made some effort to find intermediate solutions in Libya. These went nowhere, mainly because they were predicated on the preservation of the Gaddafi regime. Brazil and India, which aspire to permanent seats on the Security Council and demand to be taken seriously as world powers, chose not to participate in one of the Council's most successful actions in recent memory. They were caught flat-footed when the tyrant was toppled: neither country has as yet recognized the new government.
For Brazil, India and South Africa, the principle of nonintervention is the bedrock of any multilateral foreign policy: humanitarian considerations are subordinate to defending national sovereignty from foreign interference. This informs their reluctance to intervene in other crises, including the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown on protesters. Although they sent a delegation to Damascus in the naive hope it might persuade President Bashar Assad to stop murdering his people, they remain opposed to sanctions by the Security Council and, together with Russia, have tied the U.N.'s hands on Syria. By sticking to a stance that failed them in Libya, these nations are showing they are not ready for a bigger role in international affairs.
Castañeda, formerly Mexico's Foreign Minister, is a global distinguished professor at New York University