Muammar al-Gaddafi is a blend of Bedouin, coup leader, autocrat, and fake thinker. For decades under the logic of the Cold War he was able to use terrorism to his benefit.
Gaddafi is generally considered responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, the bombing of Berlin night clubs on April 5, 1986, and to have commanded assassinations of his opponents in various European capitals. Although Gaddafi has tried to present himself as a revolutionary leader with a certain intellectual capacity to* boot, in reality he is a crafty Bedouin with a violent terrorist streak. Where slyness and terrorism clash, terrorism appears to carry the day: Gaddafi failed to respect even the ancient and universal tribal rules regarding hospitality when, having invited the Lebanese leader Musa Sadr to Tripoli, he "disappeared" his own guest. Sadr, a moderate who could have made a substantial contribution to the search for stability in the troubled Middle East, was never heard from again
With the end of the Cold War and with the loss of his Warsaw Pact protectors, this desert fox has developed new capacities, thanks to Libya's vast, sparsely populated territory, its rich subsoil, and its strategic geographic position at the gates of Europe. After the Bush administration's campaign in Iraq, Gaddafi cleverly understood Washington's new direction and delivered his arsenal of prohibited weapons to Washington. So, thanks to George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the world discovered the Colonel reinvented as a statesman and a valid interlocutor while he still applied a horrifying repression at home. By leveraging Libya's huge oil revenues and playing one tribe against another, Gaddafi has managed - up to now - to avoid any democratic control domestically.
There are some episodes which reveal Gaddafi's new post-Cold War posture. During the rule of President Jacques Chirac in France, there was the 2005 uprising in the Paris banlieus populated mainly by young people originally from North Africa. According to Jana, the official Libyan state news agency, during the uprising Colonel Gaddafi in a phone call to Chirac had offered to help quell the riots. According to this report, President Chirac had thanked him, without accepting the offer. What help could a dictator give to the president of a democracy? The unique offer imaginable would be that the young protesters be brought to the Libyan desert via secret, Bush-style renditions.
To know even better the true nature of Colonel Gaddafi, we must examine how he treats the asylum seekers in the Libyan desert. In fact, a good part of the biblical exodus from Africa to Europe underway for years passes through Libya. Gaddafi sends these desperate refugees rejected by civilized Europe into the desert, where the most basic necessities of life, like bread and water, are often denied. Gaddafi uses this desperate throng of humanity as an instrument of pressure on Europe. During his forty-year dictatorship he has proven himself capable of any crime, beyond all limits. An examination of the facts shows that Gaddafi is a man of awesome cruelty who deserves to be dragged in front of an international court. Therefore, Gaddafi, despite all his cleverness, failed to understand the need to be seen as legitimate beyond his borders; that rule by force has consequences not only domestically but also internationally. So the tyrant's reign of cruelty has led to the destruction of an entire country.
When the Arab Spring arrived in Libya, Gaddafi ordered the bombing of his own people. Using mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa, Gaddafi is committing every conceivable atrocity. The African continent - largely poor and starving - offers a low cost source of mercenary manpower. As the first wave of popular protests struck, Gaddafi claimed they were organized by al-Qaeda. Yet, he then stated his willingness to fight alongside al-Qaeda against those whom he calls foreigners. This statement alone demonstrates his recklessness. In the face of Gaddafi's atrocities against his own populace, the international community decided to intervene. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973 authorizing "all necessary measures" including a no-fly zone, to protect civilians in Libya from pro-Gaddafi forces.
Yet, as demonstrated by events, "all necessary measures" needed to protect Libyan civilians from the fury of the dictator has become de facto a massive bombing campaign undertaken by NATO. The mercurial, hot-headed Sarkozy has taken the lead while Obama tries to keep a low profile and Prime Minister David Cameron assures British voters "this mission is not merely an outbreak of do-goodery, rooted in national interests, and limited in scope." Beyond the criminal persistence of Gaddafi, additional factors demonstrate that the war in Libya could go on for a long time, with the risk of transforming Libya into a new Somalia:
(1) Continental Wealth. Africa sees the intention of some of the rich nations to put their hands on Libyan oil as against the better interests of the continent. Africa perceives a sort of colonial "National Interest" in Mr. Cameron's Speech to British voters. Without loving Gaddafi, Africa has an interest in defending the wealth of the continent from outside interests. This is probably why the African Union (AU) rejected the arrest warrant issued by the ICC and proposed "transitional negotiations" and diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis.
The line assumed by the AU appears to have the tacit consent of one major European power, Germany.
(2) Starvation. Alongside official Africa, there is a mercenary continent. Centuries of colonial rule have left a continent of poverty and hunger that is a large reserve of low cost mercenary manpower. Gaddafi is using this manpower, largely. A tweet received by this author from a friend in Tripoli: "latest confirmed news, Gaddafi has gathered around 4000 Twareg in South Gadames, not Libyans, to fight against Libyans. May Allah protect our people from this devil..."
(3) Italy. Italy is the major European partner of Libya, and has been dragged into this war unwillingly. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi said he was about to resign when hostilities against Libya began. Libya has investments in Italian industry and banking; a new Libyan regime might bring about changes in policy, increasing the influence of France and England at the expense of Italy. Thus, Italy is participating in war, yet it knows very well the risk of being overwhelmed by its allies.
(4) China and Russia. In an effort to distance themselves from the West, Russia and China urge "meticulous adherence" to the UN resolutions authorising the use of "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians. At a summit in the Kremlin, the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, in a joint declaration stated: "The sides express concern about the crisis situation in Libya. To avoid further escalation of the violence it is necessary to provide for the meticulous adherence (to the UN resolutions) by all sides involved." Meanwhile, Russia tries to cover all the bases, with Medvedev publicly supporting NATO's actions while Putin takes pot-shots, critiquing the West's moves. China, with large investments in Africa and in need of energy, looks on the Libyan situation in (active) silence and advances by small but solid steps its own agenda aimed at gaining an ever- greater influence in Africa.
Nobody loves Gaddafi. Iran and Turkey support the opposition to Gaddafi, although neither has a force sufficient to influence Libyan events. Still, Turkey's formal recognition of the Opposition (on June 3) further isolates the dictator. The Egyptian military, heirs to Mubarak with an eye on Libyan oil resources and with Saudi petrodollars, support the Libyan rebels with weapons and munitions. Saudi Arabia, Gadaffi's old competitor for influence in the Arab world, also supports the Libyan rebels by nourishing the fundamentalist component of the opposition.
Thus, Saudi Arabia - a country that squashes internal protest and sends troops to Bahrain to crack down on protests there, a tribal state that still lists beheading as an official sanction (the last one in recent weeks was beheading of an Indonesian woman), also supports the Libyan rebels. The attitude of Saudi Arabia is an excellent demonstration of the real state of things in Libya and across the Middle East. In fact, the opposition to Gaddafi is an heterogeneous coalition, where not all faces are clean.
Under the shadow of all this, and considering that UN Resolution 1973 does not foresee the elimination of the dictator, the only appropriate resolution would be to provide a corridor for Gaddafi's graceful exit through a diplomatic settlement and to hold elections without Gaddafi. This solution is proposed by the AU and seems to have the support of the UK and Turkey for now, and probably other players soon.
It would of course also be desirable to drag Gaddafi before an international tribunal on humanitarian grounds - without political motivations. Beyond the obvious ethical concerns about assassination, elimination of the dictator would confer on him the mystique of martyrdom, as a second Omar al-Makhtar, the anti colonial Libyan leader, and thus leave future generations with a more positive image than the tyrant deserves. Gaddafi's era is over and his reign appears increasingly to be dead, yet martyrdom risks turning him into a Zombie, coming back to life to engender more monsters in the future.