As President Reagan once noted, there was always something of the ‘mad dog’ about Libya’s deposed despot. He entertained the most grandiose of illusions, prancing about as he did in his Gilbert and Sullivan uniforms. He imagined he could unify all Africa under his benign rule (before that it was the entire Arab world). He couldn’t understand why Egypt’s then ruler, Nasser, didn’t want to make a start by unifying their two countries. Using his country’s vast oil wealth, he sought to enlist (buy) all the friends he could instead of spreading it around his tiny, impoverished population. Many succumbed, including, to our eternal shame, our own Tony Blair.
Gadaffi was evil beyond belief. Once, when 1,200 prisoners in one of his many squalid gaols protested their conditions, he had them all murdered. He had no qualms about blowing people out of the skies nor bombing them in nightclubs. He was quartermaster of the IRA, sending them shipments of deadly ordnance to help them maximise the number they could kill; Semtex, arguably the deadliest of all explosives, helped mightily in those endeavours. He was prepared to kill an unarmed police woman in broad daylight on the streets of London along with opponents of his regime. All around the world he made himself available to sow terror and death. So crazed did he become that one by one his bought ‘friends’ distanced themselves from him. Even his fellow Muslims and the Arab League concluded that it did their cause no good to be seen to be associated with him, and this is what made it possible for the very first time to get the Arab League onside and stop that Bengazi massacre. At one of the meetings of the Arab League, he insulted the King of Saudi Arabia to the point that even that long-suffering, mild mannered autocrat, gave him a mouthful and walked out. Eventually, without anyone left to listen to his barmy, rambling discourses he was prevailed on by his Western educated sons, principally Saif, to come in from the cold by announcing that he had seen the light and would no more sponsor terrorism. He also grandly announced that he was no longer intent on assembling an atomic bomb.
Our own Prime Minister, Tony Blair (eyes a twinkle at the thought of the juicy contracts on offer), rushed into the tyrant’s spooky embrace – literally. Gone, it appears, were all thoughts of what this man had done to Blair’s (our) country and indeed the world. And now that Gadaffi’s own people can take no more of him – 42 years is an awfully long time – what are Tony’s excuses? “Well, I stopped his nuclear programme, didn’t I? Think what he could have done with that.” Come on, Tony, liberator of oppressed people everywhere. You know perfectly well that an atom bomb was decades over the horizon for Libya. If 70m people in Iran are struggling to the extent that they are, what chance have a desert people of 6m? Gadaffi would have long since died of natural causes before his eyes streamed tears of joy at that magic mushroom cloud rising over the Sahara.
Gadaffi’s capture alive would be much better than dead: he would be denied the chance to don the martyr’s crown; rather he would add to the other sadist leaders who have been arraigned at humanity’s court of ultimate justice. We would have the chance to catalogue at least some of his numberless crimes. Little by little, as the tyrants are made to answer for their abuses of their fellow man, we will have built up a body of case law and strengthened the International Criminal Court. The message will surely go out and be understood that the days of sovereign immunity whereby you can murder your own people at will are over. Tyrants everywhere beware!
So far as the prospects in post-Gadaffi Libya and all the peoples of liberated North Africa, I am not so gloomy as other pundits. Yet I know there is the potential for things to go badly wrong; decades of personalised rule by despots do not bequeath enlightened, functioning institutions. And Libya is awash with guns. Let them all be collected up and shipped to Syria’s hard-pressed heroes. Of course it will be hard, but they are determined. They have seen what tyranny brings. They are young and they are better educated than their parents. They are also internet savvy: they have seen the jobless wasteland their cruel and venal oppressors have created. Through TV they can see how much better are the lives just across the Mediterranean. In interviews and via their tweets they are at pains to tells us we have nothing to fear. But perhaps they do not realise the perils ahead (a little naive, perhaps)? Let us at least do all in our power to ease their passage to a better life, and let them know we have no designs on them beyond wishing them happiness and success. God knows, after their astonishing bravery they deserve that!
If we can play our part in helping to create prosperous and stable societies in what might be called our own backyard, think what that can do for our own struggling industries. 300m new consumers, willing and wanting – and now at last able – to buy our goods and services. Enlightened self-interest it may be called. Designed, not just to make a better world, but to lift our own spirits. Then there is the no-small-matter of Christian/Islamic relations. Imagine how prosperity, open, friendly and democratic societies will take the sting out of the Jihadists. What a prize! At that point, Israel’s own fears would be allayed and we would almost certainly have the comprehensive middle east settlement that has eluded us all this time. It would also go a long way to healing Europe’s own troubled relationship with its Muslim minority. We might even become friends.