President Obama's recent actions have set a clear black line which repressive governments now cannot cross. By targeting and destroying Qaddafi's heavy weapons, navy and air-force, in the timely and precise way the US military is specialized to do, it shows when, and what the United States is willing to do to enforce international humanitarian norms, while also limiting the roles the US is willing to play in such enforcement, if NATO and other countries will step up and affirm their obligation to international norms of human rights. This line is crossed when dictators use heavy arms or aerial bombardment on their own people during peaceful protests. This is particularly important in a time of high technology weapons which can precisely target unarmed civilians from safe distances, while allowing young soldiers to feel as if they are playing a video game, when in the past they would have to go hand to hand with 10 protesters for every 1 they shot. The law enforced is the law of proportionality.
There is now a simple line both liberal democracies, and the more authoritarian people's democracies in the east can follow. If a town rebels, as a town in the FL keys did in the late 90s, the government cannot bomb and shell it to teach it a lesson. This is a simple line. It may send police officers to arrest them, and if they resist arrest escalations of proportional force may legally occur. However, no disproportionate force may be used. Obama enforced this line. It is much more difficult for the military to maintain its morale when they can no longer shell their opponent into near exhaustion, before storming them. Officers are less willing to shoot at their own people when they can see their faces when their bullet hits. Hence the employment of Serbian and other foreign mercenaries by Qaddafi, who hate Muslims to begin with.
Obama should set an additional precedent by offering the mercenaries a one time amnesty. While this may cause a boom in the mercenary supply due to the increased perception of safety among the mercenaries, it will lessen its demand, since a dictator would know that when international law is broken, hired security contractors not only may legally return to their home countries without reprisals for having turned on their hiring countries, but also may receive more money than they are being paid by the dictator to leave. Mercenaries would be disincentivised to fight against the rebels. The bounty can be phrased as a general demobilization reward, as not to directly affect rebels.
With Allied European countries now taking responsibility for the second phase of the air battle, the United States can stand back, and allow allied forces to gain experience so they can also bear their responsibility for the Humanitarian common grounds which most of them enjoy because of the burden born by Americans for too long. The President has also created a new international precedent where the United States follows, but willingly uses the leading edge of its military to overcome armored units, and pass the more labor intensive functions to her allies. There is an implicit trust that needs to occur here between the US, Japan and the EU, and perhaps one day China and Russia. They are specializing their roles in international humanitarian norms enforcement.
Precedents have now been set to ensure that people's movements may remain peaceful and have some hope of changing regimes from the inside. I would be willing to bet, that no other Middle Eastern regime, except perhaps Iran, will be willing to use artillery or tanks and airplanes on their own people. They will still use automatic weapons, but no machine gun batteries. No helicopter ships. No Snipers.
Obama's use of force so quickly, despite the political cost was as brave as it was brilliant. Moments of Revolution, as moments of Birth, are as critical to the outcome of a situation, as years of slow therapy because of initial neglect. The illustrative example is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan, who many people are referring to, despite the very different circumstances both displayed -- neither was in a period of revolutionary fervor. A week of consultations with Congress would have resulted in a still birth. Obama was managing an emergency.
The United Nations has just approved a resolution allowing a no-flight zone in Libya, an obvious emergency which would have required the attention of Congress, and the Congress decides to take a week of recess. Who is responsible for setting the schedule? The same speaker of the House, the honorable Mr. Boehner who found it "regrettable" that the President didn't consult with the congress he himself dismissed. He might ask himself "What Would Boehner Do" in a similar situation, and hope we have the rationality to elect a much different congress in 2012.