Beyond the Arab spring lies Winter.

Written by John Miller


The events of 2011 to this point have been quite cataclysmic in many respects. Understandably, economic matters and the travails have pre-occupied the US media and foreign affairs probably occupy  less attention, although I am sufficiently sanguine to believe that notice has certainly been taken, especially with the hunting down of Osama bin Laden, the upheaval in the Middle East and more recently the death of Moammar Gaddafi.

220px-Muammar_al-Gaddafi_at_the_AU_summitThere have been certain happenings that will change the face of politics and the world even more profoundly than the end of the Cold War.  When I rose for my breakfast on October 21, it was to the news of the death of the Libyan tyrant Moammar Gaddafi. As relayed by international news services on TV and the Internet, the usual hysterical reporting had begun.  No doubt it will feature in the next few days but I was immediately struck by the use of the term "assassination" to describe Gaddafi's death.  One of the lesser-known and read US newspapers, the New York Daily News carried graphic video of a half-dressed individual, unkempt and dirty being dragged from a large drainage pipe, still alive and then a few moments later amidst single shots and bursts of automatic fire, he was fairly obviously dead, the proof being a 'tap shot" to the head. [1]

The cry will go up from the usual quarters that this was somehow state-sanctioned murder, with the US being the principal blame object. [2] Clearly, it was mob justice and in many respects understandable, if not in accord with Western norms and values. Stripped of his fancy uniforms, he was just another bloody corpse laid out for viewing in a commercial freezer, with queues of some size soon appearing but by the time this piece is read, he will have been buried somewhere in the desert of which he was extremely fond, but not where any shrine could be erected.

I have very little doubt that the majority of the citizens of Libya would agree with the dispensation of justice in this fashion, while at the same time, there were calls for a full inquiry into how he was actually killed.  There is no doubt that summary justice solved one particular problem.  Those in the West who condemned the manner of Gaddafi's death, fall into the category of the usual suspects on the left, while I imagine there will be many former politicians who will be relieved that he was not taken alive and sent to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.  After a few months of good food and treatment, he could be expected to name names and embarrass too many. This is a valid point which has been picked up by some of the more astute commentators in the US and certainly Tony Blair and the French president Nicolas Sarkozy were probably relieved at the outcome, although both have expressed satisfaction with his death.

My understanding of geopolitics and realpolitik especially in the Middle East is that the great powers were compelled to balance the minor players especially during the Cold War but also since.  It is fair to say that the majority of tyrants and despots who have ruled in the Middle East for the past 50 years have been supported one way or another by the West, Russia, China and Europe. [3] Some of the assistance has naturally been weaponry and much of the hardware has been used to repress domestic dissent.  However, the casual observer could be forgiven for believing that most in the Arab world and the subcontinent sleep with AK-47s as their nearest and best companion.  As we have seen on our TV screens, great celebrations have been made by firing continuous automatic bursts into the air without stopping to consider the effects of gravity and what happens when spent rounds fall to earth.

For the best part of my life, I have wrestled with my conscience on the validity of the death sentence and even more on the means of execution.  There are some crimes that deserve the ultimate sanction after due process and I could think of any number of heinous crimes that deserve death.  Looking at the timeline on which Gaddafi was hauled from his hiding place and killed, apart from begging for his life and suffering comparatively minor wounds, his end was much quicker than that accorded to those eliminated under his 42 year rule. There is no doubt either that a legitimately sanctioned Libyan court would have sentenced him to death because his reign of terror was punctuated by ostentatious showmanship and pretensions to be leader of the Arab world, hand-in-hand with a very large secret police, which “disappeared” critics and carried out assassinations of opponents abroad. Those who have complained the most are the so-called international jurists, those lofty well-intentioned windbags who have already polished their arguments and condemnations about the death of the tyrant to be published in the self-referential journals.

End Game in Libya

Gaddafi as an Army Lieutenant had been prominent in the Free Officers Movement which overthrew the Libyan monarchy in September 1969 and it appears that by sheer force of personality, he took power as an absolutist ruler in the ensuing years, keeping the population subjugated at home and Army occupied with foreign adventures against Chad and Egypt. His idiosyncratic politics rested on notions of pan-Arabism, nationalism, socialism and revolutionary fervor with frequent changes in the domestic political system, while he used the leverage of oil in dealings with the West, while accepting Soviet assistance and arms. In the early 1970s, Libya was reportedly working on nuclear weapons but failed in this process after unsuccessfully seeking assistance from Pakistan and India.  There was some success with chemical weapons, principally the crude mustard gas and blister and nerve gas weapons with slightly more success but not in quantity. [4]

Domestic repression at home and assassination of opponents overseas were hallmarks of Gaddafi's rule and bounties were placed on the heads of his opponents. [5]  A series of bombings cut across Europe in the 1970s and 1980s, the most devastating being the bombing of a nightclub in Germany in 1986, which was discovered to have been assisted by the East German Stasi after the reunification of that country. The US response was a series of airstrikes against military targets in Libya, which prompted condemnation in several Western countries, largely because Gaddafi convinced the usual supporters abroad with the claim that one of his daughters had been killed. [6]

His foreign policy was quite erratic but included most of the ideological opponents of the US and support and training for terrorist groups including the PLO and the IRA.  Gaddafi called for the assassination of President Ronald Reagan on several occasions and many countries severed diplomatic relations with Tripoli, including faraway Australia and New Zealand, because the Gaddafi regime was fomenting trouble in Oceania.  After the the gunfight at the Libyan Embassy in London in April 1984, where so-called diplomats were given orders to shoot at demonstrators, resulting in the death of a female police officer, diplomatic relations were severed for a decade.

The greatest atrocity committed by the Gaddafi regime was arguably the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland on December 21,1988 and with these acts he was well and truly in the sights of Western governments. Once responsibility for the bombing was established, international sanctions against Libya were enacted and protracted discussion with Gaddafi undertaken, resulting in the conviction and imprisonment of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Airlines.  His release on humanitarian grounds in 2009 based on reported terminal prostate cancer caused considerable international condemnation of the (independent) Scottish government.

During the 1990s and later Gaddafi was threatened by fundamentalist Islamic forces at home and from overseas resulting in limited reaching out to the West and rather disturbingly, there were some reports in the press of cooperation between Libyan intelligence and the CIA and Britain's MI6, with the quid pro quo being information on Libyan opponents abroad being passed to Tripoli.  There were also reports that Libya was used as a base for "extraordinary renditions" following the Gulf War.[7]  A sideline of reaching out to the West extended to the White House and if there has ever been any humor in talking about Gaddafi, it was his apparent obsession with Condoleezza Rice, who far from being flattered, described him as being "weird."

Improved relations with the outside world did not prevent the unrest which swept the Arab world, commencing in December last year in Tunisia, then Morocco,and Egypt this year, with continuing unrest with various degrees of severity in Bahrein, Syria, Yemen and Algeria, reaching Libya.  After a somewhat shaky start, the revolutionaries took major cities such as Benghazi.  The conflict, which began in February appears concluded with the death of Gaddafi.  Despite rumors of flight and utterances about being loved by his people, loyalists fell back and the dictator swore to fight to the death.  Whether he did is a moot point but he was armed when captured and his death is indisputable.

After Gaddafi

In many respects, it is to be hoped that the full details of the countries which supported and armed his regime for so many years become public.  Unfortunately, as noted earlier, they included many Western countries and in the region of the world where political reality demands that we support authoritarian regimes as well as Israel, we can only hope against hope that the reconstruction of Libya is conducted reasonably democratically.  However, we already know that the grand panjandrum of the rebel forces, head of Libya’s Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, is dedicated to instituting a regime based on Sharia law and it can be reasonably presumed that the provisional Constitution published in English by the Heritage Foundation and made freely available will be the basis of the new government.

Somewhat ironically, as commentator Daniel Greenfield has pointed out, Abdul-Jalil, was Gaddafi's former Justice Minister and it fell to him to proclaim that Libya had been liberated.[8]  So for the moment, we have a reasonable idea of what to expect: a government based on sharia law, if which will now relegate women to second-class status and insist on the wearing of Islamic dress.  At present, we have no idea of who really controls Libya because the coalition that overthrew him combined many tribal groups and outsiders, some of whom were alleged to be Al Qaeda and others were believed to be from Western countries.  In the weeks to come, the inevitable shakedown will provide some idea of future direction and in this respect, I very much regret the naïve beliefs espoused in the Western press that the Arab spring, facilitated by Facebook and twittering will lead to Western-style democracy.  As we all know, an optimist thinks the glass is half full and a pessimist thinks it is half empty: the realist knows that he will either be doing the washing up or picking up broken glass and my experience tends to the latter.

The next piece in this sequence will look at the so-called Arab Spring in a more far-ranging discussion.

John W. Miller is a former senior intelligence officer with NATO and allied forces, with considerable experience in Russian (Soviet) affairs and counterterrorism.


1. I have noted in other pieces and at various times that rendering Arabic into a universal Anglo spelling is well-nigh impossible.  It serves to defeat watch lists and other means of identifying terrorists.  I have used the spelling of Gaddafi's name in the form with which I am most familiar but there are many variants, possibly the most bewildering being Moammar Khadafy: similarly the Koran is the Quaran, Qur'an, Coran, al-Qur'an etc. Although Gaddafi's end was quicker than many of his victims, I feel compelled and repelled to note reports from the media, including most graphically in the NYDN that the dictator was sodomized with a US Army-issue combat knife before being shot: Khadafy's final humiliation: Rebel fighters sodomized despot with combat knife October 24, 2011:   http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/ and http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/111024/gaddafi-sodomized-video-gaddafi-sodomy2011/10/24/2011-10-24_khadafys_final_humiliation_rebel_fighters_sodomized_despot_with_combat_knife.html#ixzz1bn3AlL78

2. The list of those who have criticized the US and been loose with language include the left wing mainstream media but for those who enjoy masochistic reading, it is hard to go beyond James Petras "Nato's war crimes in Libya - who grieves for the fallen heroes."  I think it incumbent on the West to name the enemy within so this epic can be found at http://www.eurasiareview.com/14092011-nato’s-war-crimes-in-libya-who-grieves-for-the-fallen-heroes-oped/

3 US, Europe Supplied Weapons To Repressive Governments In Middle East, North Africa. Report from MISNA, or the Missionary International Service News Agency http://www.eurasiareview.com/20102011-us-europe-supplied-weapons-to-repressive-governments-in-middle-east-north-africa/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+eurasiareview%2FVsnE+%28Eurasia+Review%29

4. "Libya Has Trouble Building the Most Deadly Weapons". The Risk Report Volume 1 Number 10 (December 1995), Libyan nuclear programme".http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/libya/nuclear.htm Page last modified: 24-07-2011 08:45:40 ZULU and for chemical weapons "Libya Chemical Weapons Destruction Costly," http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2006_05/Libya

5. Eljahmi, Mohamed (2006). "Libya and the U.S.: Gaddafi Unrepentant". Middle East Quarterly.

6. "Libyan Terrorism: The Case Against Gaddafi". The Contemporary Review. 1 December 1992: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Libyan+terrorism:+the+case+against+Gaddafi.-a014151801 ; Davis, Brian Lee (1990). Qaddafi, Terrorism, and the Origins of the U.S. Attack on Libya. p.141.

7.Ben Wedeman. "Documents shed light on CIA, Gadhafi spy ties". CNN http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/09/03/libya.west.spies/. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/09/03/libya.west.spies/ MI6, CIA ties to Libya: reports".http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-world/files-show-mi6-cia-ties-to-libya-reports-20110904-1jrzy.html Richard Spencer. "Libya: secret dossier reveals Gaddafi's UK spy links". http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8739893/Libya-secret-dossier-reveals-Gaddafis-UK-spy-links.html

8. Daniel Greenfield "The Tyrant is Dead, Long Live the Tyrant" http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/41615

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