As television networks celebrate the sudden, apparent fall of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, keep in mind some historical precedents concerning startling collapses.
In 1958 Fidel Castro wrote in a then-popular American magazine, Coronet, "We are fighting to do away with dictatorship in Cuba and to establish the foundations of genuine representative government." Castro promised to "prepare and conduct truly honest general elections within twelve months" after taking power.
The New York Times led the cheers as Castro's forces seized a provincial capital on Dec. 31, 1958. Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, having lost U.S. support and expecting his army to betray him, jumped on a plane to the Dominican Republic on Jan. 1, 1959, taking with him $300,000,000. Castro's forces quickly occupied Havana.
Soon Cubans faced not just an authoritarian government but also a totalitarian one, as Castro filled his prisons with anyone who still favored "genuine representative government."
Two decades later Iran had its revolution. The Shah of Iran, with prompting from the Carter administration, suddenly left the country on Jan. 17, 1979. On Feb. 1 the Ayatollah Khomeini flew in from France. The coalition that overthrew the shah was a mixture of democrats and Islamists, but the Islamists quickly took control and executed or imprisoned those retaining liberal ideals.
Other countries, including Russia and China, have had similar experiences. When revolutionary forces include soft visionaries and vicious ideologues, hard usually beats soft. That's not to say it will happen this time-we're thankful that Muammar Qaddafi's brutal rule is done, and we can pray that the Islamists among the anti-Qaddafi forces do not seize control-but we shouldn't be surprised if it does.