Arab perceptions of the West’s arrogance and aggression and the suspicion that the real agenda may simply be to punish Gaddafi on behalf of Israel rather than to liberate Libyans will ensure that Gaddafi finds being thrown to the ground by the Western Hercules an empowering experience.
In order to destroy this Antaeus, the West has to find some way to raise him aloft and slowly choke the life out of him. Ironically this was exactly what they were doing when the likes of Tony Blair went over to Tripoli to cozy up to the Gaddafis and sign oil deals and contracts for riot-control gear. Encouraging the kind of cultural and business links that thawing hard-line tyrannies find destabilizing, this also sent out the message that the Lion of the Desert with his Little Green Book of Bedouin wisdom and socialist platitudes was fast becoming a bloated Mubarak with the usual litter of designer-suited offspring grunting around Europe’s fleshpots.
Unfortunately, spurred on by a wish to emulate the neighbors, the rebels got their timing wrong and struck when the tyrant still had enough tribal and other loyalties to hang on and bounce back. Now the only thing left for the West is to keep throwing Gaddafi harmlessly to the ground. Even physically killing him, perhaps with one of those drones that seem particularly attracted to large noisy Islamic weddings, might not work. Another Herculean myth springs to mind—the Hydra and its ability to generate new heads. Turning an old man with sons to succeed him into a martyr is never a wise policy unless you’re prepared to cauterize every stump.
It seems that in this battle it is the West that is now being “held aloft” with its strength slowly ebbing away. This is almost literally true as NATO pilots fly high over a desert where democracy’s “nation-building” shoots fail to sprout. The Benghazi enclave may survive for a few months under the protective umbrella of Western carpet bombs and armor-piercing missiles, and we could even see a new state à la South Sudan, but the Gaddafis are not likely to forget and forgive. They’ll do their work at night and with knives if need be. There’s a proverb somewhere that says, “If you anger a Bedouin, best kill him.” A West without this kind of killer instinct should best avoid playing at Hercules.
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