As soon as there was positive confirmation that Libya’s dictator Moammar Gadhafi had indeed been killed shortly after he was captured alive, US President Barack Obama went on television to congratulate the Libyan people for their great victory. This supposed victory of the Libyans is, of course, as illusory as the promise that Libya will henceforth be a free and stable country. While it is true that Libyans rose up in arms against the despot who ruled their country for 42 years, it was actually the combined forces of the United States and Nato that toppled the Gadhafi regime. It is they, therefore, who will decide the future of Libya, not the Libyans. The truth is that the Libyan National Transition Council was no more than a name. It failed to function as a unified command that could provide direction to the armed volunteers who seemed more adept at firing in the air than at the enemy.
To call attention to this is not to diminish the validity of the rebels’ cause nor is it to take anything away from their courage. It is rather to question the charade by which the United States and the European powers tried to obscure their massive intervention in Libya’s affairs. The UN Security Council’s original resolution authorized a no-fly zone over Libya to deter Gadhafi from using his military force to terrorize and kill civilians. The official intent was purely humanitarian. Yet, almost as soon as American and Nato planes took off to patrol Libya’s skies, they began firing at Gadhafi’s army. They then embarked on a hunt of the dictator, reducing to rubble the Tripoli neighborhood in which he lived in order to flush him out. When it seemed that the game was over, Gadhafi however could not be located. Many thought he had sought asylum in a friendly country. Others suspected he was going to make a last stand at Sirte, his birthplace and the hometown of his tribe.
For two months, the rebels tried vainly to subdue Sirte. Each time they tried to enter the town, they were repulsed by Gadhafi loyalists. In the end they weren’t sure if Gadhafi was there. In the early hours of Thursday, a US predator drone spotted a small convoy bearing Gadhafi as it made a break for the open road out of Sirte. The coordinates were fed to a French warplane that instantly locked its sights on and fired at the fleeing convoy, forcing it off the road. It was only then that the rebels came on the scene. They didn’t realize they had cornered somebody big until someone picked up a gold pistol at the mouth of the drain pipe into which the dictator had crawled like a wounded rat.
Thanks to mobile phones and YouTube, the whole world is able to witness Gadhafi’s final moments. Smoked out of the dirty culvert, the bloodied Libyan despot offers no resistance and even tries to reason with his young captors. “What wrong have I done to you?” he is heard saying. “Why do you treat me like this?” A video taken by a phone camera shows a rebel stripping him of his leather boots and at one point appears to be using these to pound the former ruler on the head—the ultimate insult. The young rebels then drag him to the back of a pick-up, baring his bloated belly as he is pulled up onto the truck by his arms. On the way to a hospital in Misrata, somebody shoots him in the head. There is no available footage yet of this execution. But it is this form of humiliating downfall that every rebel imagines and wishes for every despot. An event like this induces a catharsis not only within the oppressed nation but in all freedom-loving people everywhere.
Catharsis however not only purges the emotions, it also simplifies understanding by eliminating nuance and reducing complex phenomena into a battle between good and evil. As Libyans exploded in celebratory gunfire, the US media went to work by supplying the script that aimed to render all the events leading to the despot’s demise comprehensible and just. Yet, even the most polished story is bound to have rough patches. I winced when one CNN presenter naively asked a member of the Libyan contact group if the United States and Nato could now look forward to getting a reimbursement for their war expenses. The Libyan informant paused, took a deep breath, and managed a polite if vague reply. The question unwittingly portrayed America and Nato as no better than a bunch of service providers in the outsourced business of regime change.
I have no sympathy whatsoever for Gadhafi. I think he wasted the revolution he heroically led in 1969 against a monarchy that had acted as a puppet of Western powers. With the billions of oil revenue that his regime accumulated, he could have given his people a better life. But, to sum up his fate by merely profiling an irredeemably cruel, capricious and corrupt despot is to miss the broader canvas in which his 42-year rule over a resource-rich country is situated.
The death of Gadhafi does not end Libya’s woes. The country remains a divided society, perhaps even more so today than when he was in control. The violent end of the regime could be the start of just another phase of the conflict. But more than this, the exit of the Gadhafi regime is certain to usher in the Western re-colonization of Libya.
These events will no doubt remind Filipinos of the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. If Marcos had remained in Malacañang as he insisted, the protesters waiting outside the Palace gates might have vented their ire on him rather than on his photograph. What spelled all the difference in the fate of these two autocrats is that while America flew Marcos and his family to a safe haven in Hawaii, it allowed Gadhafi to be killed by his own people.