Libya’s fallen dictator
UNITED NATIONS ― Two years ago the North African state of Libya was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the military coup which brought Colonel Moammar Gadhafi to power and subsequently established the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
Lavish festivals and garish spectacles, fueled by petrodollars and regime hubris were held throughout the desert land. Then in a victory lap, Gadhafi and his entourage descended on New York for the U.N. General Assembly; the Libyan leader making a rambling two-hour speech just after U.S. President Barack Obama.
Today, the Libyan people have toppled the tyrant of Tripoli, and Gadhafi and his dwindling band of desert denizens are hiding in the Sahara’s vastness. The vestiges of his bizarre rule are strewn round the desert like the broken toys of a fallen despot.
Colonel Gadhafi was the world’s longest ruling leader, having overthrown the moderate King Idris on Sept. 1, 1969, proceeded to turn Libya into a land ruled through a blend of force, eccentricity, and undiluted megalomania.
Gadhafi’s eccentric and bizarre blend of nationalism and his cult of personality became near legend. His regime emerged as an extension of the quasi-socialist philosophy whose Green Book had an answer for everything and whose secret police, and widespread use of arrest and torture, made sure you agreed.
Sloshing petrodollars kept the regime afloat long after any common sense or opposition could ever form. A web of tribal loyalties and vicious elimination of any hint of opposition kept the regime in power.
Gadhafi is best remembered as the godfather of global terror, long before Sept. 11 attacks on America or even before the bloody Islamic revolution which engulfed Iran in the 1970s.
Early on Gadhafi became paymaster to a gaggle of terrorist groups ranging from the IRA in Northern Ireland to the Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines. His megalomania went so far a seeing himself as the Brother Leader of all Africa and thus attacking neighboring states and even meddling in Malta.
One of his more heinous crimes was his fingerprint on the bombing of Pan Am flight #103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1989, killing 279 people, most of them Americans and British.
For this terrorist act, Libya was long subject to U.N. sanctions which eventually melted away with the rationalizations that the conviction of a few Libyan “small fry” culprits settled the case.
And in 2009, in a stunningly stupid move by Scotland’s justice secretary, the Libyan terrorist convicted of the crime was released from prison on “compassionate grounds.”
After Saddam Hussein was topped in Iraq in 2003 by the Anglo/American coalition, Gadhafi assumed he was next. As this column opined, “Not many years ago the political tag team of Tony Blair and George W. Bush convinced Col. Gadhafi that his chemical weapons and nuclear program put his coastal country on the short list for a visit by the U.S. Marines.
The mercurial colonel seemed to have a Damascene conversion after seeing Saddam’s fate. Before long he “came clean” on the weapons, then courted the West whose oil companies courted him. Somehow oil has a way of lubricating friendship with the worst of places.”
Interestingly Gadhafi was not an Islamic radical; if anything he feared that organized religion would serve as opposition. He morphed from a pan-Arab nationalist to a pan-African nationalist. Third world countries humored him for his cash.
But most Arab states were wary of him, many loathed him as did Egypt, and even the former Soviet Union maintained a cordial, if very cautious, relationship, fearing correctly that they could be dragged into one of his more reckless adventures.
Delusion fueled by petrodollars and enforced by the security apparatus was probably the regime philosophy; not strict socialism, Islam or even nationalism. Colonel Gadhafi was not only a rogue ruler, bejeweled with self-awarded medals, but much more. Oil wealth and a relatively small population allowed him wider ambitions to play in a wider North African sandbox and beyond.
Almost laughably the Bedouin chic road shows saw Gadhafi and his minions often camped in tent complexes in foreign capitals, his visit to Paris a few years ago saw the ludicrous entourage encamped in the gardens of the Elysee Palace. His visit to New York fortunately allowed no such nonsense.
The saga of Colonel Gadhafi’s rule set among lavish banquets, parades, and son et lumiere spectacles in magnificent ancient Roman ruins are worthy of an oil-rich Arab ruler who has reinvented himself and his once ostracized pariah state from a patron saint of state-sponsored terror to a patron of the arts.
Finally his people said enough, and along with NATO’s military support, deposed the desert despot. Good riddance!
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of “Transatlantic Divide; USA/Euroland Rift” (University Press, 2010.) He can be reached at email@example.com