Gaddafi Is Defiant, America Too Quiet

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From CNN: “Plea to the World, Help Us in Tripoli” –A Libyan Woman calling in, asking for action, February 24, 2011

WASHINGTON – We knew that Libya was not going to be another Egypt, a country controlled by a relatively modern military that, after several days of unprecedented protests, saw the light and clearly steered the Mubarak ousting process in a reasonably peaceful and (so far) professional way. With a different military, things could have gone a different way.

Libya is another story. No such professional and reasonably modern military in this still mostly tribal and institutionally primitive country. And so when the revolt started in Benghazi, in the Eastern part of the country, it soon became chaos in Tripoli, Libya’s capital and most populous city of 2 million. Parts of the army defected. But some stayed, reinforced by assorted militias and mercenaries and by whatever the oil money may buy. And now there is fierce fighting with no end in sight.

In Libya it is different

And so, the hope of a quick Tunisia-style, or Egypt- style peaceful resolution was dashed. On top of all this, we have to add Gaddafi the psychopath ruler as extra ingredient. Already in the 1970s, when Colonel Ghaddafi was a much younger leader, then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat referred to him as ”The Crazy Man of Libya”. He did not get much better growing older. And his recent incoherent TV rantings laced with stories of Libyan youth drugged with pills in their Nescafe’ do not need much commentary.

A Western stand?

However, precisely because we cannot hope in a happy ending for Libya, due to the peculiarities of the situation and the crazy personality of this bizarre dictator, it would behoove the West to finally take a strong position and issue credible warnings, (to Gaddafi’s powerful sons, if dad does not listen), as to what would be the consequences for Gaddafi and associates in case of a civil war caused by their unwillingness to relinquish power.

Where is America?

America in particular, at this stage of the game, is almost invisible and therefore appears to be politically irrelevant. Surely there are reasons that counsel Washington to exercise restraint. President Obama does not want to engage in yet another American invasion of a Muslim country, (after Afghanistan and Iraq, this would be the third). And, of course we are aware of the thousands of Americans and other Westerners still trapped in Libya. They would immediately become hostages, or human shields, or worse.

Does US restraint mean a green light?

And yet, while taking all this into account, there is something eerie in contemplating the West, America in the lead and the whole of Europe in tow, looking totally helpless, while this dangerous man organizes his last battle, with a defiance vis-a-vis any possible repercussion coming from the West that I find worrisome. Is he totally mad if he thinks that he can get away with massacres of his own people; or in fact he and his powerful sons, (if he really lost it), calculate that irresolute Western powers will just issue strong statements and stand by?

Gaddafi did what he wanted for 42 years

Gaddafi had his coup d’etat against old King Idris in 1969. And he established his own dictatorship for 42 years. Surely enough, when he misbehaved, we tried to isolate him, we made him pay a price. Ronald Reagan bombed him in 1986, because of the Berlin disco bomb. But that was that.

And Gaddafi had oil, a commodity the whole world needs. And so, even though not in perfect conditions, he had more than enough money to sustain his personal and family tyranny. And, after a compromise was reached to put an end to the story of the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 in Lockerbie, there was almost a race to re-establish relations and investments in Libya and from Libya. Yet Gaddafi was still the same tyrant.

Washington’s position

And now that the people –energized by the ferment that permeated large parts of the Arab world– have revolted, clearly demanding an end to this oppression, what can we do for them? Well, not much, if you listen to president Barack Obama’s February 24 statement on Libya:

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