Libya's Gaddafi - A Despot No Longer "Rehabilitated"
After waiting for more than five hours for Muammar al-Gaddafi to deliver a promised address to the Libyan people Monday, the dictator showed up not in the Green Square of downtown Tripoli surrounded by adoring crowds and his "green" stalwarts, but sitting in a car with the door open holding an umbrella. He spoke for 15 seconds, saying he has not fled to Venezuela and calling those who have made that claim since Sunday al-kelab eddalla, "stray dogs," a deeply insulting slur that he had previously directed specifically at expatriate and exiled Libyans who oppose his regime. Some incredulous Libyans said that he must be in competition with Hosni Mubarak for "worst speech."
Opposition no longer is confined to foes outside the country that the regime cannot get its hands on. Since Tuesday night after the arrest of a peaceful dissident in the eastern city of Benghazi, protests and the government's murderous response have been growing in size and intensity and spreading from a few eastern cities to dozens countrywide. On Monday, all hell broke loose in Tripoli, the capital, as the government sent militia to shoot protesters and planes to strafe and bomb them. Bombs were also dropped on some neighborhoods of the city. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll in the hundreds, with thousands injured.
In a Monday evening satellite interview with Al Jazeera Arabic that had members of the news channel's staff laughing off-camera, a representative of Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa claimed - amid a long string of demonstrable lies - that no mercenaries are killing protesters, no planes are attacking civilians and two fighter-jets and two helicopters that landed in Malta because their pilots refused to attack fellow citizens are not Libyan. When the interview was completed, one of the two reporters told him, deadpan, that he was "a perfect representative of the Libyan government."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stepped up public criticism of the regime on Monday, saying that it is engaged in "unacceptable bloodshed." But some left-wing Americans, as well as Libyans in the United States and abroad, have been critical of the Obama administration for not speaking more strongly in support of the protesters.
There are those who still believe Gaddafi has headed for Venezuela. But at the very moment that British Foreign Secretary William Hague was telling European Union foreign ministers that he had "information suggesting" the 68-year-old dictator was on his way to Caracas, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was on the phone to Libya, talking directly to Gaddafi, according to a BBC report.
A few sources say they believe the building appearing in the background in the video of Gaddafi's brief "speech" is near his unrepaired house damaged in the April 1986 U.S. bombing attack that was a barely veiled attempt to assassinate him. Instead, it wound up killing 60 Libyans, including his adopted daughter, Hanna, age 4, and proved the Soviet-supplied MiG fleet of his air force to be useless. The house, in the fortified compound that serves as Gaddafi's HQ, is now a memorial. It is often visited by schoolchildren who are urged to sign a guestbook with praise for "Brother Leader," the chilling title Gaddafi prefers.
At the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman writes, A grubby Libyan lesson in realpolitik:
Until a few years ago, his toppling would have been greeted with delight in western capitals. But in recent years, the Libyan leader has been recast as a reformed sinner, an ally in the “war on terror” and a valued business partner. His current travails should be a cause of justified embarrassment – not least in London – since Britain has led the way in the attempted rehabilitation of Col Gaddafi.
Changing attitudes to the colonel highlight the way in which western concern over human rights is almost always coloured by convenience. In the 1980s, the Libyan leader was regarded as the foremost state sponsor of terrorism and rightly denounced for his dreadful human rights record. Ronald Reagan called him a “mad dog” and the US bombed Tripoli in 1986. Saddam Hussein of Iraq, by contrast, was largely tolerated because he was useful in containing Iran.
When the US decided it needed to topple Saddam, his ghastly human rights record received much more attention. By contrast, the cruelty of Col Gaddafi’s regime has been downplayed in recent years. As the US and the UK searched for a retrospective justification for the war on Iraq, Libya’s renunciation of weapons of mass destruction was seized upon as convenient evidence that the Middle East had changed for the better after the Iraq war. In 2004, Tony Blair visited Libya and hailed Col Gaddafi as a partner in the “war on terror”. British business followed in the prime minister’s wake and lucrative oil contracts were signed. In 2008, Condoleezza Rice became the first US secretary of state to visit Libya since the 1950s.
It is true that Libya’s behaviour, in recent years, has become less directly threatening to the west. But the Libyan leader remained a brutal despot. If he is now toppled it will be little thanks to the US or Europe. Instead the Libyan people have looked for inspiration and practical support to their recently liberated neighbours in Egypt and Tunisia.
Libyans need all the help they can get, because the colonel runs a much more vicious regime than those that were toppled in Egypt or Tunisia. Unlike in Tahrir Square or Tunis, no foreign television crews have been let in to record the bloodshed on the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli. Libya has never allowed even the facade of democracy and opposition that was tolerated in Egypt. All opposition political parties are banned. Indeed membership of a political party is punishable by death.
Libya has more oil in the ground than any country on the African continent and a rich history. Gaddafi had every opportunity over the past 41 years to turn his country into a model for North Africa. And he did. A model of ruthless kleptocracy. Tomorrow, or soon thereafter, others seem certain to be in charge. The question is whether the effects of his destruction of civil institutions, domestic terrorism and divide-and-conquer tactics can be overcome to bring about a brighter future for Libya's 6 million people. And whether the West will continue to play its self-interested oil game or truly help them out of the hole Gaddafi and his cronies dug.
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At Daily Kos on this date in 2004:
Ever since March 1983 when Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative to build a space shield to protect Americans from a nuclear missile attack by the Soviet Union (or anybody else so inclined), backers of Star Wars have depicted U.S. plans as purely defensive. How could anyone be opposed, they argue, to saving American lives by blowing up enemy ICBMs before they blow up our cities? ...
Published last November, The U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan puts any pretensions of the defensive nature of Star Wars permanently to rest. ...
[The report] runs through dozens of research programs designed to ensure that America can never be challenged in orbit -- from anti-satellite lasers to weapons that "would provide the capability to strike ground targets anywhere in the world from space."
Space has become an increasingly important part of U.S. military efforts. Satellites are used more and more to talk to troops, keep tabs on foes and guide smart bombs. There's also long been recognition that satellites may need some sort of protection against attack.
But the Air Force report goes far beyond these defensive capabilities, calling for weapons that can cripple other countries' orbiters.