The revolutionary who turned mad and bad, has, after eight months been stopped in his tracks – literally.  Everyday Libyan citizens who fought for freedom from tyranny, now have their chance. Their challenges however, are massive

The guys who went to war in their family cars have won. They have liberated Libya, with a good deal of NATO help, and are their nation’s heroes.

This liberating force will surely want a say in what happens now, but first a billion or so bullets will be shot into the air in celebration, as has become de rigueur in the Arab world revolutionary celebrations.

After that ritual, this liberated nation will have to turn to the massive task of building the institutional necessities of a state from the threads of an infrastructure deliberately unpicked by Qaddafi over the last 42 years.

He vowed to die in Libya, so at least he can be finally said to have kept his word on something. No wonder there was such a fierce defence of Sirte. It was to protect a despot who had to be dragged from a culvert on the side of the road. Not quite the hidey-hole in Saddam Hussein style, but not far from it. Finally, he and his mob of a family and protectors had run out of food, water and bullets, and in fleeing the city ran out of luck and time.

That Qaddafi is dead will be a relief to a good number of world figures who became cloyingly close to this delusional African strongman...Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi spring immediately to mind for various reasons.

A trial could have put into play many of the pieces of his brutal secretive and corrupt regime. A trial could equally descend into a farce...if it even got off the ground, and after 42 years the Libyans are well and truly sick of Qaddafi and probably don’t need a court to prove to them his crimes or his guilt. Perhaps a couple of the key sons will be captured alive so they can join the Mubarak boys on the appropriate side of a court room. If any of them are alive, I bet the image of a cage inside a court haunts them.

Once the euphoria across Libya has settled a little, Libyans will face a challenge in resisting the impulse to look back, conduct a witch hunt and exact revenge. It will take some fortitude to focus on the main point that the man who kept the slaughter going so as to protect the corruption and privilege of his own clan, is a gonner. That is not to dismiss the problem of what to do with the Qaddafi supporters who are now captured or yet to be.

Qaddafi’s legacy is a disaster.

His ridiculous Green Book which promoted rule by the masses for the masses was a farce, as was his Mao-like cultural revolution which just destroyed those who dared dissent, catapulted the country back in time, and cost an unknown number of lives.

Health, education, jobs and an independent judicial system would be a good start to a promising future.

There will also be much required to reconstruct the actual buildings, and given the way once picturesque towns like Sirte have been physically devestated in the war, it is just as well there is a vast financial reserve from oil sales that is no longer the personal bank account of the Qaddafi clan.

No more personalised Qaddafi pistols fashioned in gold while Libyan people live on about $2 a day and face unemployment rates of about 40%.

Qaddafi was 27 when he took over Libya – about the age of many of the men who have been hunting him down. He was a self-styled revolutionary that turned bad, was delusional and duplicitous and curried intense loyalty amongst some by paying them. Some loyalty. He was finished off by a new generation of revolutionaries – the very people Qaddafi had recently labelled drugged-up rats and cockroaches.

From the graphic footage that is now available of his capture, it would be fair to say, like any bully, he was terrified of his fate at the hands of those who cornered him.

He didn’t have to wait too long to add his name to the honour roll of deserving recipients of the old live-by-the-sword adage.

It is predictable that there will now be a general sort of unease in foreign capitals around the region and the world as to what will constitute the next Libyan government – after all this is an Islamist nation that is very conservative. Will it be Islamist, secular, democratic or a mix in recognition of the many competing backgrounds of any society.

The new Libya is highly unlikely to repeat Iran’s theocratic folly. Perhaps more of the Turkish model will suit the Libyans.

A new Libya will also have to accommodate the strong and competitive tribal structure endemic to Libyan culture and society, and built as a necessary foil to Qaddafi’s oppressive central apparatus with its very long reach.

In the meantime, those everyday guys – the bus drivers, taxi drivers, doctors, teachers, students and of course the unemployed, have to surrender their weapons and go back to their old lives.

For eight months they have put their lives on the line, and paid heavily in the process.

Retreating from the ‘thrill’ (and I use that word advisedly) of participating in the liberation of your own nation is likely to present a formidable challenge, as if they didn’t have enough to worry about.

Comments (21)

by alexb on October 21, 2011

Actually most Libyans enjoyed quite a high quality of life under Gadaffi, relative to the rest of the region. Of course that doesn't excuse his crimes, but in terms of a civil infrastructure Libya is not that badly off, or wouldn't be if they hadn't just had almost a year of bombardment from NATO.

by Dion Ramasami on October 21, 2011
Dion Ramasami

Gadaffi was captured alive and as a prisoner of war, he should have went through the process of being put on trail for the atrocious crimes that he has committed.   This is what is expected in any society.  The way he was executed raises some questions about the future of Libya  and the type of people that are going to succeed him.

by Jane Young on October 21, 2011
Jane Young

Dion I agree...he now joins the ranks of Osama binLaden and Anwar al-Awlaki in terms of not being taken a prisoner of war but executed before given due process. When I blogged it was as events were unfolding in the middle of the night NZ time, and now it is cIear that he was indeed captured alive and at some stage was killed - whether deliberately or not we don't yet know.  That sort of behaviour is anathema to what is supposed to constitute civil society (unless you are the US it seems), and I consider there is much to worry about in the liberated Libya because of the many factions of rebels who are still very heavily armed and perhaps have no idea of how to go back to desk jobs or other forms of civilian life. I think sometimes countries outside the North African-Middle East region embroiled in the'Arab Spring' expect a democratic process along the lines they approve of will appear overnight when tyrants are toppled...and remember it has to be an elected entity the West agrees with...not a democratcially elected Hamas - no matter how unpalatable that may be!

There is understandable relief that the killing in order to protect Qaddafi has ended, but the ethical dilemma of the ends justifying the means will remain on the books for detabe forever (pessimistic I know) and Qaddafi's fate will not be the last to spark such necessary introspection I fear.


by Mr Magoo on October 21, 2011
Mr Magoo

Oh please. The US currently executes people on the presidents direction and handed Sadam over for a kangaroo hanging.

We hand prisoners over in afganistan to known torturers and still do.

We once could talk so high and mighty. Now we are just hypocrites like the rest.

The revolted. They won. They did it all for the right reasons. They are better than us.

by Jane Young on October 21, 2011
Jane Young argument for giving up trying to avoid the ultimate demise into Hobbesian horror...anyone labouring under the illusion/delusion that targetted assassination is not a part of 21st century life any more than in the past needs some smelling salts at least...but once you 'officially' sanction this state of nature, it is all on..and who knows who will be next! After all, sanity, justice and democratic principles are clearly no defence.

by Mike Osborne on October 21, 2011
Mike Osborne

"this liberated nation will have to turn to the massive task of building the institutional necessities of a state from the threads of an infrastructure deliberately unpicked by Qaddafi over the last 42 years."

Infrastructure looking fairly dandy right here

...but I suspect not now - the infrastructure having been unpicked by something in excess of 8,000 NATO bombing sorties.

by Andrew P Nichols on October 22, 2011
Andrew P Nichols

There will also be much required to reconstruct the actual buildings, and given the way once picturesque towns like Sirte have been physically devestated in the war,

Pummelled to rubble along with its hapless inhabitants by NATOs application of the "NoFly Zone" Wasn't this the kind of atrocity that the NFZ was set up to stop? Bloody hypocrisy and you cant see it. No wonder Cameron/Srakozy and OBomba think they can go on doing things like this

it is just as well there is a vast financial reserve from oil sales that is no longer the personal bank account of the Qaddafi clan.

No - It's all heading offshore now. to the victors the (sp)oils.

Your lame formulaic imperial war propaganda with its crude caricatures is getting wearisome and shows how poorly served the NZ public are for commentary on global issues such as this. You really do need to widen your research beyond Murdoch and O'Reilly British newspapers. I prescribe some Pilger, Fisk, Chris Hedges or closer to home, some Hager as therapy for you. I presume you've heard of them.

by Tim Watkin on October 22, 2011
Tim Watkin

Andrew, you might want to read a bit more of Jane's work before you sound off.

And Andrew, Mike, and Alex, I'd be interested to hear how you'd have had NATO respond back in, say, February. Knowing only what was known then, tell me how the rest of the world should have reacted (or not) to what was going on in Libya. If you've got an easy answer, I'd love to hear it, cos I ain't got one.

by Andrew P Nichols on October 22, 2011
Andrew P Nichols

I have and there are some occasional good points but too much of it sounds like cutnpastes with a british press flavour. Her recent one on Syria sounded not dissimilar to those in the Telegraph or the Times. i know journos are busy but when they blog they could at least reserach a bit more widely if they want to be credible.

Wrt your problem in Libya, it all depends on whether one believes the cassus belli. He mightnt have been most peoples cup of tea and certainly was keen on supporting various terrorist/freedom fighter groups, but large scale massacres of Libyans?

In such matters like with the latest FBI sting on the Iranians who makes the allegations and who benefits?

And if one concludes that an overthrow and assassination be the order of the day because of fears of impending massacre, how come we fine democratic law loving westerners havent imposed a NFZ on Israel yet when such slaughters have actually taken place?

Cui bono? Cui bono?


by Tim Watkin on October 23, 2011
Tim Watkin

OK, Andrew, so you're sceptical of the claims of massacres (and presumably also the torture and executions of the intelligentsia etc). And your suggestion that he "mightn't have been most people's cup of tea" suggests you don't see him as, well, that bad.

I'd tend to disagree. There seem to have been credible reports that he responded to the Arab Spring with a burtal crackdown.

But even if you're right and there was no crackdown, his regime had long been directly oppressive, complete with secret police etc.

So you're of the 'leave them alone' school? Let the dictator do his own thing? Don't get involved rebellion in such states? Best to leave any African dictators – including Mobutu or Mubarak – to their own devices?

by Andrew Geddis on October 23, 2011
Andrew Geddis


I'm not sure your allegations about motives ring true here. By the start of 2011, Gaddafi was back in the bosom of the West - Blair had visited him, the US had re-established diplomatic ties, US and Italian oil companies were operating in the country. Gaddafi may have been a crazy bastard, but by 2011 he was back to being our crazy bastard.

So how exactly would the West benefit by getting behind a group of largely unknown challengers to his rule just at the point it looked like they were going to lose? I mean, if the NTC had lost, then the access to Libya's oil the West had just obtained would have gone ... why would the West risk this? Thus, doesn't the claimed motive - a desire to protect civilians from a feared massacre - actually seem more likely?

As for "why is Israel treated differently?", the fact that:

(i) Israel has a highly advanced air defence network;

(ii) There is a strong domestic pro-Israel lobby in the USA;

(iii) Israel is a reliable bulwark for US interests in the region;

goes a long way to answering that.

by alexb on October 23, 2011

What should NATO have done? Got people to the negotiating table ASAP and sorted out a two state solution. The Benghazi forces and the Tripoli forces are never going to co-operate fully, and in many ways we have simply seen one city state take over another. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 so perhaps I shouldn't harp on about it, but I feel there could have been swift and decisive diplomacy to avoid the horrific bloodshed that has come out of months of civil war.

by Andrew P Nichols on October 25, 2011
Andrew P Nichols

No - I certainly didnt like the guy. Like Mike Osborne I just question - why now when for 42 years like many other similar types he has been a particulary unpleasant specimen? Having said that one cant argue though that like S. Hussein, (outside the ruinous period of his western supported war with Iran), he wasnt all bad for his country - - excellent education, standards of living, religious freedom etc.

It is Wikileaks and PNAC that has given us all we need to know about longterm geopolitical strategy of the New Romans and their allies and it isnt a fruitloop conspitcy theory and it also isnt nice.

by Tim Watkin on October 25, 2011
Tim Watkin

Except that he hasn't been given carte blanche for 42 years? He was only accepted by western leaders for small portions of that. For many years he was considered an international criminal – remember Lockerbie?

Mike, Libya wasn't bombed back to the stone age. That over-states it by a long, long margin. And if you don't think we should have left them alone, then haven't we done what you wanted? Minimal involvement, supporting a local movement?

And as for why now? The obvious reason being that there was a local revolution to get behind. The US was lambasted for abandoning the Kurds and other Iraqi rebels when they rose up against Saddam.

It seems to me that the US and NATO can't win and regardless of different presidents and different policies followed by different administrations, its leaders dismissed as "Romans" or nasty bombers of the poor.

The foreign policy of America and several Euro countries has a lot to confess and apologise for (and let's see how fairly they operate from here), but I'm not sure Libya is one of those things.

by Tim Watkin on October 25, 2011
Tim Watkin

Alex, how would you have got Qaddafi to the table? He was calling the rebels rats and promising a fight to the death. Couldn't you argue this intervention was as quick and targeted as could be hoped for?

My point in these questions is that making decisions is often about lesser evils (either you act and risk deaths or you don't and you are seen as supporters), not what we can imagine in our heads? Fair?

by Andrew P Nichols on October 25, 2011
Andrew P Nichols

Lockerbie? I think you'll find in the near future when it's convenient to do so for reasons other than justice that it was the Iranians who did this one in retaliation for the US navy downing their airliner a year off Iran or so earlier. The key evidence against the hapless Libyan baggage handlers provided by the bloke in Malta seems to have been very dodgy.  One of the scottish victime fathers was leading a campaign to reopen the whol thing and he was convinced the Libyans were set up and that one of the main reasons the Scots let Megrahi go so quickly on med grounds against the US wishes was they didnt want him appearing in court again.

The Iran connection will be brought out again in the near future to facilitate the next war. And once again we will be dutifully told by the mainstream media that it was all news to them.


Ghadaffi gave up his nuke programme and paid out on Lockerbie to start selling oil again. It will be interesting if we get to see the Libyan Govt files before they get conveniently redacted....

by Tim Watkin on October 25, 2011
Tim Watkin

Well, if you're right and Lockerbie was pinned on Qaddafi – I've read the theory, but not for some years, so can't recall the ins and outs – then that only re-inforces my point that he was hardly left alone and protected by the West for 42 years.

Blair, Berlusconi etc went back to him – rightly or wrongly – to take his nuclear threat off the table and get Libya's oil.

My problem is that only Alex has really had a go at spelling out what he would have done, as opposed to what 'they' shouldn't have done. (And with respect Alex, because I appreciate your views, I think it doesn't bear much resemblance to anything that was realistically possible). So I'm left wondering if you're really considering what those with some power in this world should or shouldn't do with that power, or whether you just assume the worst about America/'the West' regardless – if they intervene it can only be for empire and oil and it they don't it's callous indifference to the poor.

I'm not saying oil and empire aren't a part of some decisions, but neither do I think it's all evil, suited barons of industry pulling puppet strings.

by Andrew P Nichols on October 26, 2011
Andrew P Nichols

At the root of my distaste for this whole matter is the way in which yet again one nation (and its acolytes) makes itself sole the arbiter of right and wrong on the world stage (Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya...Iran?) - and that judgement without exception equates with what's good for Uncle Sam. Imperial exceptionalism is just sick, whether it's the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Macedonians, Romans, the Brits, the 3rd Reich or whoever. Unchecked now it will be the end of us either in nuclear holocaust or an earth so degraded even the cockroaches will be looking for a new planet.

So called progressive advocates  for "humane intervention" and liberal  handwringers are just useful fools for such empires enabling interference like this where we have no business.

Places like Libya lose their bad guys in the course of time by themselves. eg The Eastern Bloc

NFZ charades  never have a good outcome even if the motives are as the lying bastard pollies like Bliar, Bush,Cameron, Sarkozy, OBomber et al would have us believe (falsehoods blown out of the water by Wikileaks).

by Frank Macskasy on October 26, 2011
Frank Macskasy

Oh dear... I could imagine Libyans reading this and their reaction.

Considering that dear old New Zealand has never endured a dictator (Robert Muldoon was the closest, some might say), I don't think 99% of us have a clue what it's like to live under such a regime.

For some of us, it's oh-so-easy to tell the Libyans what to do and how to do it. But we haven't lived our lives there.

I spent nearly a year in an Eastern European country, during the Soviet era. That was plenty 'education' for me, thanks.

By the way; when Vietnam liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge in November 1978, the West declined to support the invasion and maintained the fiction that Pol Pot's regime was the legal government of Kampuchea. (Which NZ supported, I might add.)

So much for Western "niceties"...


by alexb on October 27, 2011

Tim - Yes, peaceful solutions always do seem to require such a leap of faith.

I think if there is one thing the Gadaffi really understood better than anyone has given him credit, it was realpolitik. When he was calling the rebels rats, I think he was attempting to turn the West against them as they were possibly Islamist, and therefore he was operating on the principle that the West would see him as 'thier sonofabitch', as the saying goes. Once it became clear that NATO could destroy any target at will, I think talks should have been opened, and Gadaffi would have accepted them.

I do accept why you think this would be an unworkable solution. Gadaffi was a monster, and once the machinery of war has started it can be very difficult to stop.


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