Death of a Dictator

Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and author of books including The Muslim Brotherhood: The Organization and Policies of a Global Islamist Movement, took some questions from me this afternoon on the death of Muammar Qaddafi.

LOPEZ: What is Muammar Qaddafi’s legacy?

RUBIN: A horrible dictator who combined repression at home with terrorist sponsorship and subversion abroad. Qaddafi’s weakness was that he never had a secure superpower patron, which, combined with Libya’s small size, made him the most vulnerable Middle East dictator. Nevertheless, the West almost always let him get away with his aggressive behavior against it. Even the Lockerbie story, which began with a “tough” demand to turn over those responsible, ended with the scapegoat intelligence official (so Qaddafi could pretend it was a rogue operation) released by the British (with American approval) in exchange for oil agreements. Message: The  West is weak, stupid, and corrupt. 

LOPEZ: Is this a huge victory for the Obama administration? Who deserves credit, assuming this is a good thing?

RUBIN: Obviously the NATO forces — Europe, and especially Italy — pushed for this and the Obama administration enthusiastically went along, bypassing Congress and the War Powers Act. Since Qaddafi was unpopular, of course, the administration got away with ignoring U.S. law and procedures. But credit will depend on what comes next. 

LOPEZ: Is it a good thing?

RUBIN: Well, it is good to see a ferocious and murderous dictator overthrown, but what comes next? I see a bunch of politicians in nice suits who know how to talk to the West and win its support and a bunch of guys with guns who don’t care what the West thinks, have no gratitude for the NATO help, and a lot of whom are Islamists or aspiring future dictators. Moreover, the energy wealth of Libya makes it a tempting target for political looting, and whoever has it doesn’t have to worry about what the West thinks. Not to mention the real problems of regionalism, hatred of black Africans, and potential Arab-Berber conflict.

LOPEZ: Is this a warning to Assad?

RUBIN: Yeah, a warning that he better be willing to kill people without end or face the end for himself.

LOPEZ: Is this important for the myth or reality of an “Arab Spring?”

RUBIN: Simple answer: governments only get overthrown by Western intervention (Iraq, Libya) or their own armed forces (Egypt, Tunisia). Everything else is mythology or failed revolts put down with bloodshed.

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