Well, he finally came right out and said it: “those who do not love me do not deserve to live.” With those words, uttered on Libyan state television today, Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi at least rhetorically outdid all his megalomaniacal and mass murdering predecessors including Saddam Hussein, Ceausescu, Stalin and the whole bunch. Anyone who still doubts that this man is ready and willing to visit the utmost bloodshed upon his people simply isn't paying attention. The question is, is he able? The answer is, at this stage at least, quite possibly.
That should fill everyone with enormous anxiety and put paid to the idea that ideas for minimal interventionist efforts such as a no-fly zone are an overreaction, unjustified or would be counterproductive. My initial reaction to such calls a few days ago was caution and skepticism. After Qaddafi's first speech on TV two days ago, I had to change my mind given the ruthlessness and madness that was on full display. Yesterday in Foreign Policy magazine I came out strongly in favor of economic sanctions, freezing assets and indeed a no-fly zone, even though it conceivably might end up necessitating boots on the ground. I'm pretty sure it won't come to that, and I think these other measures will be enough to help push this madman off his perch. Indeed, his regime can't be saved, and it's only a matter of how many people will be killed, and what kind of political, social and human devastation will be left in his wake. And, let there be no doubt, the more chaos and bloodshed he inflicts, the greater the chance of a terrible outcome in Libya, involving national fragmentation, extended chaos, or the rise to power of extremists of one variety or another. The violence he is threatening has every prospect of radicalizing opposition groups and enough Libyans to produce a very gruesome outcome, and not one limited strictly to vengeance against the regime and those associated with it, which of course would be bad enough.
Let's be very clear about what exactly Qaddafi said today. Since a huge percentage, almost certainly an overwhelming majority, of the Libyan people clearly “do not love” him, including large numbers of his former officials, military officers and diplomats, he's basically issuing a death sentence on most Libyans. It's essentially a secular version of takfir, the bizarre and theologically inadmissible practice by the so-called “Salafist-Jihadist” lunatics of pronouncing other Muslims to be apostates and therefore, in their eyes, worthy of death (for this reason, those who call themselves Salafist-Jihadists have frequently been referred to as “takfiris” in the Arab media, in an attempt to distinguish them from less extreme Islamists like most Salafists such as Muslim Brothers who do not engage in the practice). And it has a grisly precedent: towards the end of the civil war in Algeria, as the Islamist opposition became increasingly deranged, both al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha (the Armed Islamic Group) and al-Jamaa'atu l-Salafiyyatu li l-Da'wati wa l-Qitaal (the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) — the most extreme of the Algerian radical organizations, realizing they were finally losing the battle against the government, the military and the mainstream of Algerian society — pronounced takfir against the entire Algerian nation that did not join their ranks, not once but twice. And they meant it. These were auto-genocidal sentiments from two of the most radical Al Qaeda-style organizations the Arab world has ever seen. If they had not been small and marginalized by that time, there is no telling how many Algerians they would have massacred, given that attitude. Goodness knows they killed enough as it was, even given their limited means.
Gaddafi has done the same thing, without invoking religion or framing his arguments in a Salafist-Jihadist, pseudo-theological rhetoric. His madness is much more megalomaniacal than it is theocratic-maniacal. It's all personal, and about him: "those who do not love me deserve to die." There's no doubt at all that his regime continues to unravel, but it hasn't lost control yet. There are dire warnings that he still possesses some chemical or biological weapons, although whether he has the means to deliver them or not isn't clear. However, senior defectors from his regime are saying he has these weapons and will not hesitate to use them at the last moment. At the very least, he still seems to command considerable conventional firepower, and doesn't appear in the least bit hesitant to unleash it. Certainly he's acting very much in a Samson-mentality, talking and acting as if he were perfectly content to bring the entire edifice of the Libyan nation down around him if he has to go. Indeed, he's starting to exhibit the same attitude of contempt towards his own people that Hitler reportedly expressed in the final days in his bunker as the Soviet military bore down on Berlin: that his people had let him down, that they therefore didn't deserve to live, and that since he was about to lose power it was only right and just that they perish in large numbers.
I'm a very reluctant supporter of humanitarian international intervention in Libya. But I think it's almost impossible to believe that major international efforts like freezing assets, economic sanctions, travel bans, weapons sale bans and, indeed, a no-fly zone are not urgently required here. In fact, for those who are concerned about the possibility of the international community being forced to intervene on the ground, I'd say the quickest possible implementation of those measures is the best bet of avoiding two very bad scenarios: one, the need to intervene physically to prevent extremely widespread atrocities or possibly even genocide; or two, having to live with the fact that as in Rwanda, the international community had every warning about what was happening and about to happen, and stood by and did virtually nothing. Is there anyone who doesn't feel shame about the global lack of response to the genocide in Rwanda? Do we really want to go through that again in Libya?
I don't think I'm overstating the case here at all. My strong suspicion is of the regime is on its last legs, and that it's quite unlikely that any sort of direct intervention in Libya would be required to finish it off. But I do think these other measures, short of ground actions, while they carry the risks I've outlined in my last blog posting and also in my Foreign Policy article, these are greatly outweighed by the urgent need to take action and the even more serious consequences of failing to do so, not only for the people of Libya, but for the stability of the region and for Western interests in the long run. I'm not sure how intervention on the ground would be regarded in Libya (I'm sure at the moment there is no appetite for any such thing, because it hasn't come close to requiring that… yet), or in the rest of the Arab world. The specter of colonialism cannot be underestimated. However the imposition of a no-fly zone would, I strongly believe, not be regarded by most Arabs and certainly not by most Libyans as an unwarranted Western intrusion, a neocolonial action, or abusive meddling. I think the anxiety for the future of the people of Libya is sufficient to offset any mistrust of the West at this stage, and actually I think it would be regarded as a noble and most welcome form of intervention.
The situation is quite simple: we have a crazed and extremely ruthless dictator desperately clinging on to power, still in possession of considerable armed forces and foreign mercenaries, threatening to massacre his people and declaring that those who do not love him deserve to die. Under such circumstances it seems to me that economic measures and a country-wide no-fly zone are the very least that can be done, and after his speech today, every day that passes without them, assuming his regime doesn't fall quickly, will be an added embarrassment to an international community that has declared that it has a Responsibility to Protect. If the Libyans right now don't need protection from an armed, crazed and homicidal dictator who is openly and on television threatening the overwhelming majority of them with death, I can't imagine who would.
There is now some dispute over whether Qaddafi said "those who do not love me do not deserve to live" or "if people do not love me, I do not deserve to live." Al Arabiya reports the later here. But first-rate tweeters reporter Muna Shikaki quoted him as "Qaddafi: 'those who don't like me don't deserve to live'" and Sultan Al Qassemi wrote "Gaddafi now in TV 'I'm in central Tripoli now. The people who don't love me don't deserve to live.'" Those are two pretty good sources, in my view. Either way, the thrust of the arguments remain unchanged. At UN today, the
My tweep @abuhatem says:
Yeah I read it. Al-Arabiyah is wrong. They tend to get a lot of things wrong. You, Munashik, and Sultan are all correct. 100%