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How Libya's Qaddafi brought humanitarian intervention back in vogue

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That idealism witnessed in recent months in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East helped foreign-policy idealists triumph over "realists" who resisted the idea of involvement in Libya as possibly entangling the West in another Mideast war.

"The Arab spring was at the core of this," says Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. "Those people supporting intervention are thinking more broadly than Libya. They are returning to a more idealistic foreign policy after two years of realism."

The European promise to lead on Libya also seemed to help force the American hand. As pressure grew on the United States to take action, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it wasn't a question of whether the US could enforce a no-fly zone, "The question is whether it's a wise thing to do, and that's the discussion that's going on at a political level."

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