The latest reports from Libya, as of the end of the day there on Monday, suggest a full-scale civil war. Gaddafi appears to be fighting for his life — literally, not just his political life — by ordering security forces to fire on unarmed demonstrators and ordering his military to attack certain military bases. This suggests that the military has already split, perhaps along the tribal lines that remain critical in Libya. Libya is a serious oil producer and, predictably, world oil prices have spiked, going to $105 a barrel as I write — the highest price in three years. Meanwhile, a number of Libyan officials and ambassadors abroad have already defected, condemning Gaddafi’s use of murderous force.
This is the end of the Gaddafi regime, after an astonishing 42 years. It is hard to see how he and his sons can survive the next few weeks. If he uses enough force to prevail, the death toll (already in the hundreds) assures that further rebellions will be planned and will occur sooner rather than later.
The United States treated Gaddafi as an enemy due to his support for terrorism against us, until a rapprochement of sorts began under Pres. George W. Bush at the very end of 2003. Gaddafi, apparently scared by the American victory in Iraq, agreed to abandon terrorism and handed over his nuclear and missile programs (which now reside at a U.S. military base). He kept his part of bargain, and so did we — opening an embassy and after a few years sending an actual ambassador. (The ambassador has been out of Libya for a month, since WikiLeaks cables showed him telling the truth about Gaddafi’s rule.)
This has meant that American criticism of Gaddafi’s horrendous human-rights practices has been muted for the last eight years. But it’s time now to tell the whole truth, for the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators was not what we bargained for. The administration should call for his replacement and for a new government dedicated to using those oil revenues for the people of Libya rather than for Gaddafi’s bizarre and useless economic policies. Moreover, it should call for the isolation of the country and for immediate sanctions. Gaddafi must become an instant pariah for this continuing and unlimited use of deadly force against his people.
Moammar Gaddafi, who has called himself the “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya,” should go down in history with the Emperor Bokassa and Idi Amin as a grotesque reminder of why people have the right to change their government. The sooner he falls, the better for Libyans. But he will leave behind a shattered land with no alternative government, no real political parties, and no experience with free elections, a free press, independent courts, or any of the building blocks of democracy. The one great asset, due to all that oil, is about $100 billion and perhaps more in financial reserves, so Libya — with a population of only about 6.5 million — need not have a future of underdevelopment and oppression. And that suggests another step the Obama administration should take right now: acting to keep Gaddafi’s bloody hands off those accounts.