The Gaddafi Dilemma

Denouncements, sanctions, embargos don’t work with tyrants. Sociopaths who come to see themselves and their offspring as demigods couldn’t care less what the world thinks of them or if their people are starving. They know how to shelter their wealth in foreign banks and investments so they can continue to live in luxury and retain their power. Should an arms embargo be imposed on them, they would have long before hedged their ability to obtain all the weapons of suppression they needed by establishing the right connections in the black market. Selling arms illegally to tyrants by surreptitious means is a major industry in developed nations. And the expectation that a hurting population will eventually rebel against their tyrant is illusory. On the contrary, the more a people are suppressed, the weaker they become. People reduced to scratching out a living from day to day have no time or energy left for rebellion.

So, from a strictly realpolitik, pragmatic perspective, the U.S. has had but three options in dealing with tyrants: One, by ignoring them (Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan) Two, if it’s in our best economic or political interest, by supporting them (Hosni Mubarak, pre-revolution Egypt) Three, if they become a threat to our economic or political interests, by eliminating them outright, by whatever means, and as expeditiously as possible. That was how we dealt with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Staying on in Iraq to rebuild the nation in the guise of Western democracy was, to be sure, a colossal mistake. The intelligence that he had weapons of mass destruction ready to use against us, and that he gave aid and comfort to the 9/11 terrorist was, we now know, a pretext to invade. The real threat that he posed was his intention to control the free flow of oil in the Middle East, a definite threat to our national security. (Yes, the war in Iraq was all about oil.) Clearly, we had to eliminate Saddam Hussein, and for pretty much the same reason,king oil,it might now be becessary to dispatch Muammar Gaddafi.

But things have changed alot since we arranged to have Saddam Hussein martyred. No more do have the power to deal with tyrants unilaterally. Our NATO and Arab League allies, whose unanimous approval we would need, are not likely to give us the green light to take out Gaddafi. Legally we have no choice but to join them in the agreed-upon limited war against the tyrant, "leading from behind," as President Obama put it. Yet the longer this limited war drags on, the more time given to the untrained, disorganized rebels to get their act together and claim victory on their own, the more the corpses of innocent Libyan civilians will pile up. If we can’t convince our allies that the only solution is to martyr Gaddafi, now, without delay, we should step back and let them bear the diplomatic and financial cost of dealing with the tyrant as they see fit. If by so doing we lose credibility, so be it. We couldn’t lose any more credibility and respect in the world than we already have.

Note: In 1985 President Ronald Reagan, casting Constitutionality and international law to the wind, ordered an air raid to assassinate “The Mad Dog of the Middle East,” as he had aptly dubbed Gaddafi. But the attempt failed miserably. Two U.S. fighter jets were shot down, and Gaddafi’s younger daughter and some 40 to 100 family members and civilians were allegedly killed. History would have taken a different turn if the assaination attempt had succeded. But given the traditional sucession of tyrants in places like Libya, the new tyrant usually more tyrannical than his predecessor, the change would probably have been for the worse.

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