Rebels captured another strategic base in Libya this weekend. Earlier in the week they took control of a major oil refinery thus cutting off Moammar Gaddafi from much needed fuel for what remains of his army. Gaddafi has been reduced to being the master of Tripoli and its suburbs, NATO controls the air over the city and the seas outside the port. Soon if not already, supplies will start running short and the few smart folks that remain in the regime are going to be looking for ways to get out, or make a deal before the noose becomes too tight.
We are witnessing the curiously predictable, murderously compelling passion play that marks the final days of a dictator. There’s a chance Gaddafi slides out some back door to wash ashore in ignominious, if safe exile on the endless beach of Saudi Arabia a la Idi Amin or more recently deposed Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Sadly for Moammar, the old days when third world dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko or Baby Doc Duvalier could retire to the south of France to die in luxury may be gone… although there might be a chance right wing Italian Prime Minister and former Gaddafi BFF, Berlusconi can find him a discrete villa on the luminous coast north of Pisa. Worse for the long suffering people of Tripoli, he might stage his own personal kleine Götterdämmerung, substituting perhaps a tent in this case for a bunker… Least likely but most gratifying, would be if he is caught and made to pay for his crimes by the same people he’s brought so much misery, for so many years. All this remains to be seen of course, but the fact is, sometime in the near future, President Obama is going to stride to the podium and declare victory and the Colonel who once sported an all-girl team of bodyguards and a unsurprisingly megalomaniacal sense of personal style in military uniforms will be no more. And how then are we on the left to feel about this?
Moammar Gaddafi is a bad man. He’s murdered his own people in droves, he’s been a player in international terrorism during the 1980s and 90s, when he provided money and hosted training camps for the PLO, the IRA and the Brigate Rosse among others. He also engaged in his own direct attacks on US service personnel in Germany, and of course the infamous Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie Scotland, 25 years ago last week.. In the 00s, the Europeans and the Bushies bought Gaddafi off and he seems to have settled down to selling oil and persecuting his own people. But in the same way that 9/11 provided an excuse for the Bushies to settle their private scores with sometime ally Saddam Hussein, the recent “Arab Spring” has provided an opening to finally remove what the press liked to call the “Libyan Strongman”. When Gaddafi leaves the stage of world history either head or feet first, it will doubtless be a good thing in that he was in fact a very bad man. Yet, as with the case of Saddam, we can celebrate the end of a villain and still question the many ways in which our government and the international corporate community have conspired to prop up and sustain this dictator for so long, and the extra-legal means now being used to remove him.
We progressives often get chucked under the chin by the Neo-Cons and the ever so thoughtful “USA has a special mission from God to kick ass in the world” types who call us weak kneed and morally impaired when we raise real questions about the blow-back from American adventurism. When the dictators are on the American payroll, we’re told that our naivety about realpolitik blinds us to the important strategic necessities that require keeping so and so in power. Then, when so and so is longer needed we’re pilloried as some new Neville Chamberlain, if we complain when the same dictator is trotted out as the new Hitler.
Either way I suppose it’s good for business. War might be the only industry the US can claim to be growing these days, but the price we pay as a people, both in our national treasure and our international reputation are stunningly large. We’ve spent trillions of dollars over the last decade on the Bush wars and what do we have to show for it? Afghanistan is more of a mess (if that’s possible) than when we arrived in 2001, and now they hate us and our corrupt stooge regime to boot. Iraq is in the midst of more sectarian violence and the only thing all the Iraqis can agree on these days is how much they loathe us. Sure, Saddam is gone, and Bin laden is dead, but in terms of expenditures alone, it would have actually been cheaper to buy Saddam out for a mere trillion dollars and send him to the Cote D’azur to write his romance novels. We killed Osama Bin Laden (another very bad man) with good old fashioned police type investigation (and an assassination team that wasn’t exactly legal), that had little to no relationship with the nearly one trillion dollars we now spend yearly on defense and “security” matters combined. Make no mistake, I believe that the US and the other nations of the world have the right and in some cases the moral obligation to act when a regime leaves the community of nations and becomes an outlaw, but I don’t trust the powers that be anymore, if I ever did. I don’t trust that they have even the semblance of a moral compass. I think they’re playing a game, I suppose one can argue that they always have been.
The last 60 years of international history reads out as one long butchers bill of surrogate wars and coups and black operations that always seem to have unintended consequences and rarely if ever help the local populations in whose name they’re ostensibly carried out. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines… Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan… Cuba, Columbia, Peru, Chile… Namibia, Mozambique, Angola, Rhodesia and so many more. The names swim up out of the past covered in blood and paid for by our tax dollars. Each one justified, each one an issue of national security. And now Libya, where of course Gaddafi must go, to be replaced… by someone. And yet who is it in the end that seems to always come away from these killing fields a winner. The multinationals that always turn up in the midst of these international car wrecks like so many ambulance chasing lawyers ready to sell weapons and “expertise”, ready to sign sweetheart contracts for the oil or the diamonds or the dirt cheap labor or what have you, with whomever they can put into power for the moment… they benefit, but that’s about it. Certainly not the soldiers, paid next to nothing to wreck their bodies and savage their souls, certainly not the civilians who watch one tyrant replaced by another while the their national wealth is syphoned off to a new set of numbered accounts. And most certainly not the American people, always left with the check while the scoundrels duck out.
So when the Marines go into northern Mexico or some shadow war in South America blows up in our faces, we’ll be told by the mainstream media why we just had to pour more money and men in, and there was no other choice… and the cowards on the left don’t support the troops etc. And somewhere, someone will be making a mint on the whole thing. I’m surprised the corporations and banks that increasingly define what constitute our vital national security haven’t gotten us involved in a more formal way in the blood bath in Central Africa by now. For raw, unmitigated misery on this planet the Congo may have no peers… and it’s a treasure house of minerals, precious metals and petroleum. I assume the local strong-men haven’t tried to take too big a cut, or perhaps the media logistics of land war in Africa haven’t been worked out yet… but there’s always next year…
In the midst of all this cynicism I should say that I still believe in the right of peoples throughout the world to fight for their freedom and I am not shy in my belief that the United States should aid them in their just causes, but I’ve lost trust in my government and I have no trust in the corporations that often seem to influence where and when our young men and women fight. Too often yesterday’s ally is todays boogie man is tomorrow’s ally again. I’ll shed no tears for the Colonel when he leaves, but I know a game’s being played when I see one, and I won’t be cheering either.