On October 20, 2011, the former strongman of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, was captured and killed in his hometown of Sirte. The "King of Kings" of Africa, who had ruled the oil-rich North African country with an iron fist for over four decades and had an ego that made other megalomaniacs look humble, was no more.
Gaddafi's overthrow is significant in that it was done in concert between Libyan rebels and European and NATO powers who worked with one another to achieve an overthrow of the regime with little use of Western ground forces and no Western casualties. With the demise of the Gaddafi regime, a few observations are worth noting:
- Unlike most leaders in the Arab and Muslim worlds who are forced out of power with Western assistance, Muammar Gaddafi's death will not be viewed as an act of martyrdom, and will not result in a significant rise of retaliatory attacks. His number of supporters was relatively small. Even Saddam Hussein -- despised by Islamists and secularists alike -- had enough supporters amongst the Iraqi Sunni elite that his death led to an elevation of status within some circles of Arab society. Not so with the madman from Libya.
The United States and her allies will take another long hard look at the effectiveness and utility of limited, overt financial assistance and military and political support for those combating our adversaries. The United States very successfully worked with the Northern Alliance post-9/11 to overthrow the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan. It was only in the political stabilization stage when the number of American and allied forces increased dramatically, the mission became blurred, and casualties began to mount.
Related to the note above, it will be worth watching what lessons the Europeans will have learned from their involvement in Afghanistan when trying to build a stable state in Libya. Libyan rebels include a cadre of leaders that are Islamist, and who were at times considered enemies of the West and actively pursued. Now the West will be forced to try and work with them to create a moderate government friendly to the West.
One of the primary and oft-ignored reasons for Western intervention in Libya was related to the influx of refugees spilling out of Libya into Europe. Nations like France, Malta, and Italy were increasingly concerned about the growing numbers of Africans spilling onto their shores. Were it not for this reality, it is questionable whether NATO forces would have ever gotten involved in the first place. It is even more debatable whether the rebels would have ever succeeded in overthrowing the Gaddafi regime. In all likelihood, they would have not.
The successful, systematic destruction of the Gaddafi regime, culminating in the bloody video of a seriously wounded Gaddafi begging for his life and that of his sons, sends a serious message to dictators in countries around the world, and particularly in Arab states such as Syria, where another unpopular regime is out of sync with NATO and Arab allies alike. The relatively peaceful downfall of Egypt's Mubarak and his subsequent semi-public trial may have led Assad and others to conclude that they needed to resort to greater violence to quell potential protestors. Col. Gaddafi's overthrow may now have changed all that. Assad and his fellow henchmen in Syria may now seek a way to calm tensions with the West and Turkey, either by re-igniting talk of peace talks with Israel, weakening its support for Hamas and other terrorist organizations, or (less likely) by distancing itself from Iran and Hezbollah.
While the post-Gaddafi state of Libya is only now beginning to take shape, the consequences of the fall of one of the world's most brutal dictators are being felt around the world. Only time will tell what lessons will have been learned from this historic development, but it will definitely be worth watching.