Welcome to NATO’s New Colony, Libya
by Eric Margolis: Hooked
After 43 years
of eccentric, zany, or comical rule, underscored by Western charges
of terrorism, it appears the era of Libya’s Col. Muammar Gadaffi,
once called by Ronald Reagan, "the mad dog of the Middle East,"
has been the longest-ruling Arab leader. His sons, who were positioned
to succeed him, are either captives or dead.
opera-bouffe costumes, his busty, pistol-packing female bodyguards,
his silly antics and claims to be Libya’s "Brother Guide,"(he
held no official position), his efforts to lead the Arabs, then
black Africa, and his support of all sorts of revolutionary/terrorist
groups made the Libyan colonel into the Arab world’s most colorful
and controversial leader.
A score of
attempts to kill Gadaffi have failed over the years. Israel, Egypt,
the US, France, and Britain all sought to assassinate him. The US
dropped a 2,000lb laser-guided bomb on his bedroom. It killed his
two-year-old adopted daughter.
MI6, tried to kill Gadaffi for supporting the Irish Republican Army
by detonated a powerful car bomb in Benghazi, killing a large number
of civilians. France’s intelligence service, SDECE, secreted an
altitude-fused bomb on Gadaffi’s private jet. All these attempts
But now, it
certainly looks as if Gadaffi has used up all his nine lives, and
then some. As of this writing, he may still be holed up in his military
headquarters at the Bab al-Azizya barracks where I spent a fascinating
evening with him. Gadaffi led me by the hand through the ruins of
his private quarters that still smelled of fire and smoke.
We spent hours
in his gaily decorated Bedouin tent, talking about the Mideast and
his admiration for his idol, Egypt’s late leader, Col. Gamal Abdel
Nasser. He poured scorn on the other Arab leaders, notably Egypt’s
Anwar Sadat, calling him "America’s puppet" a "thief"
and "Israel’s dog." His special contempt was reserved
for the Saudi royal family and Gulf oil sheiks, sneering at them
as "fat old women in robes."
The fat old
ladies of Arabia finally got their revenge by funding the rebellion
that began six months ago in traditionally anti-Gadaffi Benghazi.
The US and
Britain still blame Libya for the downing of PanAm flight 103 over
Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. Col. Gadaffi reluctantly
agreed to pay compensation to families of the victims to get out
from under a punishing trade embargo, but insisted that Libya was
not responsible and had been framed.
There may be
some substance to his claim. A Scottish court was preparing to question
the evidence that convicted a cancer-stricken Libyan diplomat, Abdulbasit
el-Megrahi when he was released on grounds of compassion.
this case for two decades, my sense is that the attack was engineered
by Iran, using terrorist-for-rent, Ahmed Jebril, in revenge for
the US shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner over the Gulf
five months earlier that killed 290 civilians. The captain of the
US warship that shot down the Iranian passenger jet was awarded
a medal by President George H.W. Bush. Both Libya and Iran deny
any involvement in the Lockerbie crime.
But Libya was
caught red-handed in 1989. Libyan agents bombed a French UTA airliner
over Chad, killing all 170 aboard. French criminal investigators
charged Libya’s intelligence chief Abdullah Senoussi with this crime.
I dined with him in Tripoli; he denied being involved and said the
French had framed him.
I believe Libya was indeed responsible. The UTA attack was revenge
for France’s attempt to assassinate Gadaffi by bombing his aircraft
that occurred while the two nations were locked in a military conflict
over Chad’s Aouzou Strip, which was said to be rich in uranium.
In the end,
Libya forked out $1.5 billion to families of the victims of both
airliners. Gadaffi was then brought in from the cold by Washington;
US, British and Italian oil firms were granted important new concessions.
President George W. Bush proclaimed Gadaffi "an important ally
on the war against terrorism."
and the US still wanted revenge. When rebellion erupted in anti-Gadaffi
Benghazi six months ago, French president Nicholas Sarkozy, eager
for a small conflict to boost his sagging fortunes with rightwing
voters, recognized the rebels and had his intelligence service,
DGSE, cobble together a "Transitional Council."
creation was composed of Libyan exiles who had lived in the west
– as in the case of Iraq, many were "assets" of western
intelligence. They were shoved together with Islamic militants who
turned out most of the armed amateur fighters.
In spite of
a UN resolution to merely "protect civilians," the French,
British, US, Italians, and a scattering of units from other right-wing
governments like Canada and Denmark, sent their warplanes against
Gadaffi’s feeble forces.
the real fighting was done by NATO airstrikes, Predator drones and
attack helicopters, vectored into their targets by British and French
special forces on the ground. NATO naval units played an important
role in the final attack on Tripoli. The full role of NATO in overthrowing
Gadaffi has yet to emerge.
The armed mobs
of gun-waving Libyans merely provided a useful cover for the substantial
Western intervention. It will be interesting watching these Western
powers jostle for power and control of Libya’s high-grade oil. France
and Italy are traditional rivals in North Africa, notably in Tunisia
and Libya. Britain and Italy are Libya’s former colonial rulers
– unless one also counts the Turks. The United States once had its
largest foreign airbase, Wheelus Field, in Libya.
How the mixed
bag of anti-Gadaffi exiles and militant Islamists will run the new
regime remains unknown. The Western powers will certainly exercise
much control over the new government and reap oil riches as a result.
Yet Libya could
still remain in crisis as regional, tribal and political groups
clash. A small guerrilla war cannot be excluded.
the steady inflow of billions from Libya’s oil exports is a prize
that will keep Libya’s many factions in confrontation and fuel the
continued oil lust of the Western powers.
of former ally Muammar Gadaffi will also set a precedent for future
oil adventures in the event of turbulence in the Arabian Peninsula,
Algeria, and, clearly, in Iran. Syria is at least fortunate in having
very hard to see how Gadaffi can survive the collapse of his regime.
The International Criminal Court in the Hague has an arrest warrant
out for him and son Seif ul-Islam. Many Libyans want his head.
hope is to flee to refuge in a friendly African nation, perhaps
Zimbabwe, Angola or Mali.
At the age
of 70, he can’t run too far, or too fast.
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
Best of Eric Margolis