The capture/killing/execution of Muammar Qaddafi by Libyan rebels occurred with no loss of American lives. That makes you wonder how different the world might have been if the NATO strategy in Libya had been applied to Iraq in 1991.
In 1991, the United States, having amassed a huge coalition army, attacked Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and stormed into the Iraqi desert, unimpeded by Saddam Hussein's once-feared military. American air strikes had obliterated the Iraqi air force, and American ground forces with air support had demolished the Iraqi army, sending remnants of it scurrying toward Baghdad in one of the most complete military victories in modern history. After 100 days of one-sided combat, President George H.W. Bush declared the war was over. Riding ridiculously high approval ratings, Bush seemed assured of re-election.
Bush and his advisers chose not to follow the panicked Iraqi troops into Baghdad and directly overthrow Saddam Hussein. They were convinced that the Iraqi people would rise up against the now-weakened tyrant and quickly be rid of him. His army was decimated, his air force crippled and the allies promised to keep his remaining fighter jets out of the sky. The oppressed Shiite majority should easily be able to overthrow the ruthless dictator.
That was the theory, but it didn't work out that way. Allies allowed Iraqi helicopters to fly, and those aircraft gave Saddam the advantage he needed to crush the rebellion. For 12 years, Iraq played cat-and-mouse with Allied fighter jets patrolling skies over Iraq while, on the ground, Saddam built an even more oppressive regime. In 2003, the first President Bush's son saw an opportunity to finish the job his father had begun. Using erroneous or fraudulent intelligence, George W. Bush declared that the world had to depose Saddam Hussein before he could use his weapons of mass destruction. It should be another cakewalk, just like 1991, the advisers said. Once again they were wrong, and 4,400 American troops would die in the invasion and the subsequent insurgency.
If the first President Bush had followed NATO's Libyan protocol of 20 years later and provided air support for Iraqi dissidents, Saddam Hussein might have been deposed 12 years earlier, the Iraq war would not have happened, the United States would not have spent trillions of dollars in an ill-conceived invasion and occupation, 4,400 Americans would still be alive, the federal budget would be far healthier, and America would enjoy far more support in Arab countries.