The words "ragtag" and "rebels" often go together — whether it's American farmers routing the king's mighty Redcoats or Libyans in battered pickups overthrowing a brutal dictator and terrorist.
The death of Moammar Gadhafi is the latest milestone in a startling series of events that began last December when a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, protested authoritarian rule and government corruption by setting himself afire.
He ignited the Arab Spring, which has produced changes of government in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and sparked uprisings and protests across the region, along with some promises of reform from spooked despots.
In Libya, where peaceful protests were met with brutal retaliation, Gadhafi's death is expected to bring an end to the fighting as the last pockets of his loyalists try to blend into the background.
This moment belongs to the Libyan people, as President Barack Obama said Thursday.
It's also a time to reflect on the United States' role in liberating Libya and consider its lessons for the future. In cooperation with European and Arab countries and with United Nations approval, U.S. air power prevented Gadhafi from inflicting massive civilian casualties and supported the rebel advance when it was collapsing.
Not a single U.S. troop touched foot on Libyan soil. The Libyans who did the fighting own the victory. The U.S. incurred only their gratitude and avoided the hostility that inevitably follows a military invasion.
In response to calls for the U.S. to take a more assertive role elsewhere in the Mideast, Obama has said the situation in each country must be evaluated and responded to separately, which makes sense.
Gadhafi is believed to have been responsible for some of the worst terrorist attacks on the west, including the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland in 1988 in which 270 people died.
In his downfall we see the advantages of multilateralism and international cooperation.
Now the Libyans must pour their energies into planting a democracy in soil that has never know self rule and that is fractured by regional differences. They also must rebuild their shattered economy, a process that should be aided by Libya's vast reserves of oil.
The U.S. should offer to help with all of those challenges. It is the right thing to do. It's also in our interest to cultivate an alliance with a country we helped liberate.
The Libyans have shown us that the desire for human dignity and a bunch of "ragtag rebels" can still change the world.