October 21, 2011
THE COLONEL IN HIS LABYRINTH:OBIT: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator who has been killed aged 69, liked to promote himself as an instigator of global revolution; for the four decades of his rule, however, this was carried out through the subjugation of his people at home, and the sponsorship of terrorism abroad. (The Telegraph, 10/21/11)
It was a suitably chaotic end for a man who could never be easily pigeonholed. Erratic, vain and utterly unpredictable, he always seemed to be enjoying a private joke which no one else could see. His image, plastered on walls all over Libya, seemed a parody of Sixties radical chic -- the craggy features, longish hair, the eyes half-hidden behind retro blue-tone shades.
Gaddafi would arrive at summits of Arab leaders in a white limousine surrounded by a bodyguard of nubile Kalashnikov-toting brunettes. At one non-aligned summit in Belgrade, he turned up with two horses and six camels; the Yugoslavs allowed him to graze the camels in front of his hotel - where he pitched his tent and drank fresh camel milk - but refused to allow him to arrive at the conference on one of his white chargers. Several of the camels ended up in Belgrade zoo.
At an African Union summit in Durban in 2002, his entourage consisted of a personal jet, two Antonov transport aircraft, a container ship loaded with buses, goat carcases and prayer mats, a mobile hospital, jamming equipment that disrupted local networks, $6 million in petty cash, and 400 security guards with associated rocket launchers, armoured cars and other hardware, who nearly provoked a shoot-out with South Africa's security forces.
On his return motorcade through Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, Gaddafi tossed fistfuls of dollars from his car to appreciative crowds, remarking that this way he could be sure they went to the poor.
Gaddafi's political pronouncements were equally outlandish. He told the Algerian regime that it had wasted the one and a half million martyrs who had died in the war against France because it had not continued across North Africa to "liberate" Jerusalem. He once suggested a binational state for Palestinians and Israelis called Isratine.
Under the banner of pan-Arabism, he offered political unity (under his leadership, inevitably) to Syria, Egypt and Sudan (none of which wanted it), then changed tack to pan-Africanism, calling for a united continent (also to be ruled from Tripoli). As a first step, he threw open Libya's frontiers to all African citizens; the result was that four million, mainly Muslim, Libyans became resentful hosts to at least one and a half million impoverished sub-Saharan migrants.
Yet the self-styled "Universal Theorist" and "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Arab Libyan Popular and Socialist Jamahiriya" was no joke. In the 1970s and 1980s, while other tyrants were content to repress their own people, Gaddafi seemed hell-bent on bringing murder and mayhem to the whole world.
After Pam Am Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie in 1988, leaving 270 dead -- the biggest mass murder in British history - a court found two Libyans guilty of planting the bomb on board. In 1984, WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead in London with a machine gun fired from inside the Libyan embassy. Then there was the bombing of a Berlin discotheque, explosions at Rome and Vienna airports and the bombing of a French airliner over Chad.
In addition, Gaddafi sent arms shipments to the IRA, Abu Nidal, and numerous other terrorist organisations and set out to export revolution to his neighbours, perpetuating regional conflicts in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Chad and Liberia. Domestic opponents -- the "running dogs" who opposed his dictatorship -- were ruthlessly liquidated. In 1984 bomb attacks on seven Libyan exiles living in Britain left 24 people injured; one Libyan journalist opposed to Gaddafi's regime was assassinated as he walked past London's Regent's Park mosque.
In the mid-1980s "taking out Gaddafi" became an American obsession. In 1986, for example, he survived missile attacks ordered by President Reagan - attacks which he claimed had killed his adopted daughter (in fact evidence later emerged to suggest that she remains alive and well).
Indeed, for all his madcap behaviour, Gaddafi was no fool. He survived at least a dozen attempts on his life and remained the longest ruling revolutionary from the Nasserite Sixties. In the 1970s and 1980s he could defy the might of the United States and laugh off UN resolutions, confident that the Arab world, the Third World and the Soviet bloc would back him. But times changed. By the 1990s the Soviet Union was no more, and Arab leaders had had enough of Gaddafi's troublemaking.
As a result, in the late 1990s he made his most audacious move since coming to power: the reinvention of himself as a peace-loving international statesman. In 1999 Libya finally apologised for the shooting of Yvonne Fletcher, and handed over the men suspected of masterminding the Lockerbie bombing for trial. Gaddafi admitted that some of the "liberation" movements he had assisted were not really "liberation" movements at all; it had all been a terrible mistake. In 2004, following a British diplomatic initiative, he publicly renounced Libya's weapons of mass destruction programme.
With Libya's proven reserves of 30 billion barrels of oil as bait, it did not take long for Western leaders to bury the past and beat a path to his tent. The British public was treated to the spectacle of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praising the colonel's "statesmanlike and courageous" strategy and Prime Minister Tony Blair offering the "hand of partnership" over a glass of camel's milk.
The reasons for Gaddafi's change of heart aroused much speculation. He had certainly been anxious to end the UN sanctions imposed in 1992, which had crippled his country's economy. But it was the September 11 attacks that appear to have been the catalyst.
Gaddafi was the first Arab leader to condemn the attacks (helpfully suggesting that the United States bomb the safe havens of Islamist militants in London); and the most instantly alert to the implications for his own survival.Posted by Orrin Judd at October 21, 2011 7:07 AM