The success of Libyan rebels in toppling Muammar Gaddafi's 40 year regime is an immense achievement, and one that should not be seen as lessened due to NATO involvement. A revolutionary accepts any help that aids their cause, then once revolution has occurred, the morning after so to speak, those who are victorious decide what role if any, those who have helped receive.
For similar reasons Simon Bolivar was not championed widely by Latin American leftists until Chavez placed his ideas squarely at the centre of his Bolivarian (hint's in the name) revolution. Because Bolivar sailed to England to ask for protection in the case that France sought to conquer Venezuela, help he never received, he was seen as pandering to imperialist power. And for those on the left obsessed with the notion of pure revolution, this did not make him a figure worthy of attention.
Okay things we know - Sarkozy and Cameron struggling at home, change occurring in a way Obama should have but did not anticipate. An old story where domestic turmoil is sidelined as headlines talk about freedom brought to foreign lands. The Arab Spring was not about the west in any direct sense, though western governments uniformly supported the deposed tyrants, it was squarely about Arabs. The west was uninvolved and looking increasingly irrelevant, it had to be seen to be as part of the Arab Spring by both Arabs and itself; in order to preserve its never-more deluded self-image as the yielder of freedom throughout the globe.
Relating to this, reading Chritopher Hitchens latest article for the Guardian he made the remark that there is a divide among western leftists between the anti-totalitarian left and the anti-imperialist left, doesn't the Arab Spring above all else show how imperialism necessarily creates and supports totalitarian regimes? As, if a nation is to be hollowed out for the benefit of foreign powers and the multinational corporations that serve (and are served by) these powers, a brutal undemocratic regime is needed to crack down on the dissent that will obviously and rightly spring up. Thus the opposition is a false one; any anti-totalitarian leftist will be anti-imperialist, whether the imperialism is Chinese, Russian, American or British, because for the imperialist, dealing with a singular brutal agent is much easier than potentially dealing with a multitude of agents who can lose or gain power based on the desires of a citizenry who will obviously object to its own exploitation. Linked to this is the Chinese objection to the Dalai Lama's attempt to democratise Tibet.
Why Libya and not for instance Syria or Bahrain? In the case of Bahrain, US-allied Saudi Arabia sent its troops to crush the rebellions growing there (as they felt the example of the majority Shia population overturning Sunni control could destabilise their own kingdom; 15% of Saudi citizens are Shia), this obviously infringed upon Bahraini national sovereignty which clearly should've warranted widespread comment, and as such barely raised brow in the Western press. The US cannot risk the collapse of the house of Saud; too much money and too much oil are at stake, which is why, as we pass the 10 year anniversary of the September 11 2001 New York terrorist attacks, the country that had the clearest links to the attacks was not and will not ever be attacked for its involvement. Unless of course the Saudis turn the oil off.
Libya is for us, the global television audience; a cosy, simple narrative that has been served to us many times. We, the west, are good, dictators, particularly ones so easily portrayed as batshit bonkers, are bad. Gaddafi made an easy figure both to ridicule and demonise despite Lord Blair's and others' attempts to rehabilitate him and open up Libyan oilfields. Gaddafi for his part realised correctly that he could not stand up to, as recent events have shown, NATO forces and thus thought a strategic alliance would exempt him from being a target. However when the rebellion sprang up, he was too good a target to pass up.
Historically the narrative goes: we get rid of bad dictators, though of course prior to that fully supporting them until it becomes untenable, then bring we bring freedom, read market freedom, where we are given full access to their resources with no restrictions placed on our companies, binding the host nation to an economic unfreedom that will scupper any major attempts at reform. However times have changed, there is growing global consciousness about exploitation and imperialism, the west realised it needed a tactical shift.
The west has often sought to cultivate resistance movements and attach themselves to them, as the remarkable short-sightedness of the US championing of Ahmed Chalabi and the INC (Iraqi National Congress) prior to and during the latest Iraq war shows. However what is new and demonstrates a shift in the global distribution of power (or rather the ability to apply power openly), is instead of cultivating resistance movements to serve its own ends, the west in Libya had to attach itself to a genuine resistance movement and then hope somehow it got rewarded for its assistance, which indicates a growing impotence.
An interesting precursor of this tendency is the US covert arming and financing of the Afghan Mujahideen, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan towards the end of the Cold War. This organisation would later turn into Al-Qaeda. Except in that example US strategic aims were clearer; Russians defeated, US happy. Zbigniew Brzezinski then U.S National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter spoke about using Afghanistan to give the Soviets their Vietnam. Apart from the hope of improving the perception of NATO in the Arab World, the support of Libyan rebels seemed a rushed decision, a last minute decision to crash a dinner party where the after eights were already going round.
However the new paradigm for intervention will emerge when the west decides to assist 'rebels' in other countries, where 'perceived-to-be-real' resistance movements, will in fact just be created agents of western neo-liberal market imperialism, there is not anything particularly new about this approach, it is rather that the rebels success in Libya will make this approach more palatable and familiar to the global television audience.
Even in the countries who did not seek western assistance for their revolutions, western diplomats will be meeting with those victorious and trying to get them to play the game; therefore Libya is in no worse position than any of the other emerging democracies in North Africa and the Middle East. One hopes for Libya that they are not bound by any number of backdoor diplomatic deals as yet unknown to the global public.
Today the message of the new Libya to Cameron and Sarkozy should be - thanks for the help, now on yer bike!