The Gadaffi I Knew
by Eric Margolis: The
Prohibitionists Are Back!
going on, what’s happening," a wounded, dazed Muammar Gadaffi
reportedly asked just before he was murdered in Sirte, Libya.
Leader" had once asked me something similar. A year after the
US sought to assassinate him by dropping a 2,000lb bomb on his bedroom
in Tripoli’s Baba al-Azizya barracks, Gadaffi took me by the hand,
guided me out of his trademark Bedouin tent and walked me around
the ruins of his private quarters. He showed me the bed on which
his two-year old adopted daughter had been killed by the US laser-guided
With a plaintive
look, he asked me, "Why, Mr. Eric, why are the western powers
trying to kill me?" I was stunned. Gadaffi appeared to be sincere.
Could he not understand why he had become a hate figure and target
number one. A leader Ronald Reagan called, "the mad dog of
the Middle East."
I told him, was punishment: first, for shaming his brother Arab
leaders into raising the price of oil to a fair trade value. Second,
his naïve, unquestioning support for all sorts of violent "anti-colonial"
movements: among them, the IRA, Basque ETA, killer Abu Nidal, Philippine
Muslim rebels, Nelson Mandela’s ANC. Any group that called itself
"anti-colonial" or "liberationist" and got to
Tripoli came away with bags of dollars and Gadaffi’s support.
leader kept asking me the same question when we returned to his
tent. We talked far into the night about subjects from Palestine
to the Italian tailors he loved. Right to his ugly death, I believe
he never really understood why so many were trying to kill him.
And this was
still the younger Gadaffi whose idol and father figure was Egypt’s
Gamal Abdel Nasser with whom he shared the dream of uniting all
the Arabs and throwing off western neo-colonial rule.
Gadaffi was bitterly disappointed by his fellow squabbling Arab
rulers who had no interest in Arab unity or liberating Palestine.
Gadaffi’s dismay turned to rage against the Arab leaders; they,
in turn, saw him as embarrassment, a lunatic, and menace.
up his visions of Arab unity, turned his back on the Arab world,
and sought to make himself the dominant power in Africa. African
leaders were no more willing to join a united black Africa under
Gadaffi than were the Arabs.
Gadaffi’s youthful dreams turned to ashes, he became increasingly
eccentric and flamboyant. His "Arab socialism" scheme
nearly wrecked Libya’s economy in spite of billions from oil exports.
Every week seemed to bring a new, cockeyed social or economic experiment,
and ever more zany behavior by the "Brother Leader."
me that night in Tripoli that if he were overthrown, the western
powers would quickly grab Libya’s oil. His words were prophetic.
The uprising that began earlier this year was organized, armed and
supported by French and British intelligence. NATO warplanes and
helicopters, and special forces, did the serious fighting and broke
Gadaffi’s forces. All the gun waving rebels were window dressing
to cover a western military intervention that was supposedly for
a French Mirage fighter reportedly destroyed the convoy in which
Gadaffi fleeing besieged Sirte. He was seriously wounded, and then
captured and lynched by an angry mob.
of western-backed technocrats and former regime members will now
vie for power with militant Islamists and hard men from Benghazi.
The British, French, and Italians, all former colonial masters of
North Africa’s coast, will likely offer troops for "training."
Businessmen and carpetbaggers from Europe, the US and Canada are
already pouring into Libya, a new sandy version of Alaska’s Klondike
What will happen
to Gadaffi’s reserves of tens of billions of dollars remains to
be seen. Expect a flood of fraudulent emails from Nigeria, "I
am Col. Gadaffi’s former finance minister and need you help to move
$15 million out of Libya."
remain. Where is Abdullah Senoussi, Gadaffi’s brother-in-law and
intelligence chief? I dined with him in Tripoli. He holds the answers
to the mysteries of the 1980’s sabotage of a French UTA and Pan
Am airliners. Was Libya really behind these crimes, or was it framed?
and Americans will want access to Libyan intelligence files and
to Mr. Senoussi, who has been already convicted in absentia in France
of the UTA bombing.
was indeed behind the aircraft bombings, as most of the world believes,
then he deserves not one bit of sympathy from us. If not, then we
should at least acknowledge him for building modern Libya.
When I first
came to Libya in the early 1970’s, it was little more than a fuel
and rest stop on the road between Alexandria and Tunis. Only united
in 1951, Libya barely existed at the time. Its doddering king, Idris,
was a British puppet. The US had its largest overseas air base in
all his crazy antics, daffy outfits, spasmodic cruelty and nutty
"Green Revolution," managed to unite Libya, providing
it with housing, hospitals, roads, a thriving oil industry and the
trappings of modern civilization. But he also wasted billions on
his madcap Great Manmade River that brought ancient artesian water
from the Sahara to the coast.
for Libyans, if Gadaffi had employed good economic sense instead
of his crackpot "Arab socialism," Libya today would probably
be a well-run powerhouse like Qatar and the UAE.
squandered untold billions promoting anti-colonial revolutions,
and trying to make himself the chief of black Africa. But his money
did not buy friends.
Or at least
not for very long. During the 1980’s, the US, Britain, France and
Egypt tried repeatedly to assassinate Gadaffi.
But from 2003
until last year, Gadaffi was rehabilitated; he and his high-grade
oil were brought into the western fold. President George W. Bush
hailed Gadaffi as, "our important ally in the war against terror."
Gadaffi toured Europe, where he held hands with France’s Nicholas
Sarkozy and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, exchanging vows of friendship
and cooperation. Lured by oil, Britain’s Tony Blair came to Tripoli
to grovel before Gadaffi.
rebellion erupted in Benghazi earlier this year – very likely sparked
by the French and British intelligence services – Gadaffi quickly
lost his new friends and was again relegated to pariah. Libya’s
oil was too great a prize to stand on treaties or promises.
to see what was happening. Going from humble Bedouin herdsman to
absolute ruler was too much, too fast. Gadaffi was not crazy, but
for sure he was the oddest person I have met. But he was also sly
as a fox and truly charismatic. In a world of Arab dictators in
poorly tailored suits, Gadaffi was a peacock – albeit a dangerous
After all these
years, I still can’t figure out whether Gadaffi was really hearing
voices that guided him, or just having adolescent fun scandalizing
and frightening the world.
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
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