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Thursday, October 20, 2011 

An oddly appropriate end.

There is much about the death of Gaddafi that seems oddly appropriate, both in terms of his own idiosyncratic, eccentric, brutal rule and the similarly fantastical, double-speak ridden coalition that came together to overthrow him. To the very last this incomprehensible man apparently carried with him a gold-plated gun, the kind of utterly debauched kitsch that only fictional gangsters and madmen along with probably quite real oligarchs and footballers would find aesthetically pleasing. It doesn't seem that he used it, or if he did the NTC certainly hasn't mentioned it; it would after all rather collide with the image of pulling him from out of a sewerage system like a rat, the same terms in which he repeatedly denounced those who had risen up against him, if he'd gone down fighting.

Instead he was given much the same treatment as Mussolini, although he has (so far) been spared the indignity of being hung upside down from a meathook. Certainly the account given by the NTC of his capture and subsequent death is confused and contradicted, not least by the various gruesome videos showing him alive and then later dead. If he did die in an ambulance as they're claiming, it's strange that there's footage of him alive being pulled off a truck, and then seemingly back on the same truck most definitely dead. Where the footage of him on the ground, also dead, comes in the chain remains to be seen. It's certainly possible that he died of his injuries shortly after being pulled off the truck, perhaps even in an ambulance, but it's hardly surprising there's suspicions that he was administered the coup de grace, with his body then being displayed and driven through the streets of Sirte. If that was what happened though it's difficult to believe there isn't video footage of the execution yet to emerge, seeing as everything else seems to have been filmed.

Like with so much else in this exasperating war, NATO had their own ignominious role to play. Gaddafi's convoy was apparently struck from the air, although the French and Americans are now squabbling over who exactly it was that so successfully protected any civilians playing chicken along the road from Sirte from an early grave. If you ever wanted a better indication of how rather than being a "liberal intervention" this was instead another war for regime change with at least some noble intentions then it's been provided by how today's strike will apparently be the last action of the campaign. Ever since the fall of Tripoli the only civilians in need of protection were those unfortunate enough to be living in the areas the last remaining loyalists fell back to, in Sirtre and Bani Walid respectively. Instead, NATO connived with the NTC forces to reduce Gaddafi's home town to rubble, regardless of the entirely innocent civilians living there. Rather than suggesting alternatives to their allies, they actively encouraged the Free Libya Forces to use the exact same artillery fire that Gaddafi's men showered Misrata with, to deadly and horrific effect. With Gaddafi dead, NATO's work is finished. If indeed he had managed to escape from Sirtre, it seems likely the mission would have continued until his death, such was the determination to continue to "protect civilians".

For the lessons of Iraq most certainly have been learned. Then the United States and the UK tried to pass a UN resolution authorising all necessary means in order to disarm the country of weapons of mass destruction by force. They failed because it was obvious the inspections had not been given enough time to succeed and as it was equally apparent regime change was the real motivation. This time, led by the UK and France, a resolution was sought that would put in place a no-fly zone and authorise all necessary means to protect civilians, while at the same time calling for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations. With a massacre in Benghazi otherwise looking imminent, it's not surprising that China and Russia fell into line despite their misgivings. UNSC Resolution 1973 has instead been used to justify absolutely anything NATO thought was appropriate to "protect civilians", essentially meaning the end of Gaddafi's government. Negotiations were rejected out of hand by the NTC, while any attempts to reach a ceasefire were negligible. The supposed "responsibility to protect" has been perhaps permanently sullied by this blatant deception. It's certainly ensured that Russia and China have blocked any attempts to pass sanction on Syria.

If there's been any regrets at this subterfuge, even if in the long run it may well turn out to be justified, then none have been expressed. David Cameron in the Commons on Wednesday returned once again to the "dodgy dossier" when listing a litany of abuses by the past government, at the same time as he's been presiding over a conflict based around very similar deceptions and lies. This though has been a good war, for the simple reason that not a single serviceman connected with NATO has perished, although this seems more by luck than judgement. The entire 8-month conflict has in the end turned out to have gone well for our politicians: so much could have gone wrong, from Gaddafi's men over-running Benghazi before operations began, to an intractable stalemate emerging, through to the fight for Tripoli turning into a complete bloodbath. A stalemate for a long time seemed to have prevailed, with the TNC's fighters being disorganised, almost suicidal in their tactics; even in Sirte they seemed determined to kill as many on their own side as they did loyalists. It's still not entirely clear how the fall of Tripoli came about, with accounts persisting about special forces from Qatar being heavily involved, having already provided weapons.
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Equally unclear is how many Libyans have lost their lives. Prior to the intervention anywhere between 1,000 and 6,000 were thought to have died; now the NTC suggests up to 40,000 have. Like in Iraq, no one seems to have been bothered enough to determine how many civilians were "protected" to death by NATO air-strikes. In Syria, where the repression if anything has been worse than it was in Libya prior to the intervention, around 3,000 are thought to have been killed. Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, where the dictators stepped down but left behind their states, in Libya Gaddafi essentially was the state, leaving the NTC to restart from scratch. The difficulty of doing so will only be exacerbated by the tensions now increasing between the different factions of the rebels. Similarly, while there are always likely to be scores settled, the reports of torture and arrests are disturbing. The path to democracy for the country looks strewn with hazards.

Quite where this leaves any future intention to intervene is difficult to tell. Certainly, the other permanent UN security council members aren't going to fall for this "responsibility to protect" nonsense again unless genocide actually is happening. It's also even more abundantly clear to every dictator and authoritarian regime around the world that giving up your weapons of mass destruction is an act of lunacy. As Alex Massie says, it also instructs them that the best way to put down an uprising is brutal repression from the very beginning, before anyone has even the possibility of acting. At the same time, Flying Rodent more than has a point (as he has had throughout) when he suggests that not even a complete clusterfuck in Libya would stop our rulers from acting in the same way again. There was every possibility of Libya turning out as badly as Iraq, yet they went ahead anyway. This wasn't so much political courage as pure, unthinking arrogance, tempered only by how it was at least with some humanitarian instinct at its heart.

All this said, the true end of a dictatorial regime is always to be welcomed. The pure joy seen across Libya today at the knowledge that the person who terrorised them for so long has been removed entirely from the scene is something it can only be hoped is repeated with time in Syria, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Hopefully without the need for ourselves to bomb their leaders' departing convoys first.

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Let's not forget the numerous and repeated stories of immigrants from sub-saharan African being lynched for being "Gaddafi supporters".

Doesn't bode well. Like Iraq, I bet Libya is a country we'll be bombing in 20 years time.

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