Although the premise behind the NATO mission in Libya of few troops on the ground and overwhelming air support may hold appeal for those advocating a more interventional foreign policy, the conflict in Libya should be treated as an exception rather than a rule.
Every conflict is fought on different battlefields. In Libya, we had a opposition force fighting a narrowly supported dictator, there wasn’t a superpower standing behind Gadhafi and as far as I know, there was only brief of putting troops on the ground. This would be the ideal situation, but wars aren’t fought in ideal situations.
Not every dictator has such a dogged group willing to fight them and not every dictator is as hated as Gadhafi. What if we back a group and the group fizzles or is more interested in pocket lining? We obviously can’t leave an angry dictator on his perch, requiring major boots on the ground. If we miscalculate the scope of the opposition, than we end up on the business end of a civil war.
The bottom line is that NATO was the beneficiary of an advantageous set of circumstances that though ideal can’t be depended on to occur again.