The Libyan Fox at Bay
by Eric Margolis
by Eric Margolis: How
Curveball Made Fools of Official Washington
Muammar Gadaffi deliver a bombastic, defiant speech last week from
the ruins of Tripoli’s Bab al-Azizia barracks brought me back to
1987 when Libya’s leader led me by the hand through this same wreckage
of his former residence.
On 14 April,
1986, US aircraft attacked Libya after a Berlin disco frequented
by US soldiers was bombed. US President Ronald Reagan blamed Libya
and denounced Gadaffi as the "mad dog of the Middle East."
But a defector
from Israel’s Mossad later claimed the US had been duped by a false
flag operation into believing Libya was behind the attack.
US bomb crashed through the ceiling of Gadaffi’s private quarters.
He was outside in his trademark tent. But his 2-year old adopted
daughter was killed. Some 87 other civilians and a few French diplomats
also died in what was called a "surgical air strike."
Americans thought this raid was dandy.
Mr. Eric," a clearly confused Gadaffi plaintively asked me,
"why were the Americans trying to kill me?" He really
seemed at a loss.
Leader (he liked to be addressed this way) they think you are funding
every kind of anti-western group," I replied. "And they
will never forgive you for provoking the rise in Arab oil prices."
In those long
ago days, Gadaffi, who considered himself a passionate revolutionary,
supported every militant group that asked for Libyan help, including
Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, various Palestinian
groups fighting Israeli occupation, Basque separatists battling
Madrid, the Irish Republican Army and Abu Nidal’s killers. To Washington,
Gadaffi was the world’s arch "terrorist."
I was one of
the first western journalists to interview Gadaffi (or Khadaffy
as it was then spelled) after the US attempt to assassinate him.
I also met the senior members of Gadaffi’s regime, including his
chief of intelligence who was later accused by France of organizing
the bombing of a French UTA airliner over Niger in 1989.
and I spent the evening talking in his colorful Bedouin tent, I
had some fun with him. "We may bomb you, Leader, but we also
think you are the best-dressed Arab leader." The dazzlingly
vain Gadaffi, dressed in a custom made, silk Italian jump suit and
zippered kidskin boots, beamed with pleasure. He asked me where
he could get the Ralph Lauren safari jacket I was wearing, adding,
"you look very militant, Mr. Eric."
I could never
get a good fix on Muammar Gadaffi. When he seized power way back
in 1969, he was young and very handsome, with movie-star good looks,
and an ardent reformist. Gadaffi’s hero and father figure was Egypt’s
charismatic Gamal Abdel Nasser. He was expected to become the second
never the same after Nasser’s untimely death in 1970. He grew eccentric,
then very odd. He styled himself a revolutionary leader, not a head
of state. Libya was to be in permanent semi-anarchy, without any
real government or institutions. As the craziness spread, oil billions
poured in, allowing Gadaffi to romance foreign heads of state and
influence Africa. But his fellow Arabs rejected him as a rich but
dangerous, mercurial clown.
PM Silvio Berlusconi, France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy and other
world leaders squirm with embarrassment walking next to Gadaffi
decked out in flamboyant, clownish uniforms straight from an Italian
"opera buffo" was always amusing. Everyone mocked Libya’s
madcap "Leader," but loved his money even more.
and bizarre, Gadaffi was clever as a fox and had more lives than
a cat. He survived many attempts on his life mounted by US, British,
French and Egyptian intelligence.
In 2003, in
a brilliant ploy, Gadaffi bought a pile of nuclear junk on the black
market, then told Washington he was giving up his nuclear weapons
program. The Bush administration fell for this ruse and ended its
punishing boycott of Libya, thrilled it could claim a nuclear victory
after finding no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
bought peace with the western powers by cutting them into Libya’s
rich oil fields, investing billions in European industry and banking,
and joining George Bush’s faux "war on terror."
But now that
Libya is convulsed by revolution, Gadaffi seems to have used up
all his nine lives. His area of control is shrinking fast, though
there are many Libyans who still support him – for the moment.
Events in Libya
are moving very fast, and their outcome remains uncertain. "Leader"
Muammar Gadaffi is hunkered down in Tripoli, defended by loyal army
units from his tribe and mercenaries from black Africa. But opposition
forces appear to be closing in on Tripoli as the threat of all-out
civil war in Libya grows.
burns, there are serious discussions afoot in Washington and Europe
about imposing an Iraq-style "no fly zone" in Libya, followed
by possibly western military intervention. Libya would be "stabilized,"
a client regime made up of CIA-organized exiles installed, and Libya’s
oil fields made safe for western companies. A western invasion and
occupation would be decked up as a peacekeeping/humanitarian mission.
return to pre-Gadaffi days when it was ruled by a British-managed
figurehead king, the doddering Ibn Idris. That is, if Libya does
not dissolve into tribal and clan warfare, or break up into western
and eastern parts.
former brutal colonial ruler, and now main oil customer, may be
eager to get involved. So, too, Egypt, France, and, of course, the
US and Britain. Oil remains the ultimate geopolitical aphrodisiac.
If driven from
Tripoli, Gadaffi will take refuge in his tribe’s territory, or bolt
to Italy or Venezuela. His five spoiled, feuding sons are unlikely
to emerge as Libya’s new rulers. All dictators seem to have terrible
problems with their out-of-control sons.
is a sad example of the maxim about absolute power corrupting absolutely.
People like me who relish political theater of the absurd will miss
the "Leader;" but most of his people, I suspect, will
prepares for his last stand, the next storm to hit North Africa
may come in Algeria and Morocco, two western-supported regimes that
are considerably more brutal and repressive than Gadaffi’s ramshackle
now burning across the Arab world – and perhaps as far east as Central
Asia, even China – has just begun.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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