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H.D.S. Greenway

Doubts fester as Khadafy hangs on

Moammar Khadafy attends a news conference in Rome in 2009. Moammar Khadafy attends a news conference in Rome in 2009. (File 2009/Reuters)
By H.D.S. Greenway
September 13, 2011

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THE DEVIL’S Advocate dropped in for a chat the other evening, just as I was hoping to get some sleep. I can tell you, he’s not someone you want around if you value your peace of mind.

“You have to admit Khadafy’s shown some true grit,’’ said the D.A. in his usual annoying way. “Oh, please,’’ I said, “you are not going to sympathize with that tyrant.’’

“Of course he’s mad as a March hare,’’ said the D.A., “but there he is, having defied the might of the West for six months, like the Arab heroes of yore, and now on the run. His cause is lost, but he’ll be defiant ’til the end, like the legendary Libyan hero, Omar Mukhtar, who was finally hanged by Mussolini after having fought the Italian colonialists for 20 years. Libyans will remember Khadafy differently in the chaos that’s coming.’’

“But aren’t the events in Libya a crowning achievement of the Arab Spring?’’

“You don’t really think the so-called rebels are going to produce a democracy, do you?’’ mocked the D.A, “or even a stable country. They were fighting among themselves even before Tripoli fell. And equally sordid are your allies, the French and the British who, having outrageously sucked up to Khadafy before, are now grubbing for oil deals with the rabble in charge.’’

“Just a minute,’’ I said. “Khadafy was about to massacre everyone in Benghazi. This was a necessary humanitarian intervention.’’

“Give me a break,’’ said the D.A. “This was always about regime change, not saving civilians. You don’t think rebel civilians are going to refrain from murdering Khadafy loyalists do you? It is already happening, and you are not lifting a finger to save them. And Tripoli is about to become a terrorist arms bazaar.

“As for your allies, Nicholas Sarkozy found himself desperately unpopular, so he thought a splendid little war against a hopelessly second-rate power across the Mediterranean would bolster his poll ratings. He’s hoping the French will rally to him, having seen him flex his muscles like the good old days of the French Foreign Legion - a little Beau Geste, if you will. And David Cameron, he’s in the shadow of Margaret Thatcher and he thinks a little Falklands-like adventure will help him too - playing out old colonial fantasies.’’

“But don’t you agree that Obama handled this masterfully, letting the Europeans take the lead rather than get involved with a third war?’’ I argued.

“I believe it’s called ‘leading from behind,’ ’’ said the D.A. “That’s what my client does, only with a pitchfork in someone else’s behind. First you sweet-talk Khadafy out of his nuclear arms program on the promise of rehabilitating him in the world community. And then the first chance you get you go for his throat. The North Koreans and the Iranians will certainly take notice and draw their own conclusions.

“And for that matter,’’ asked the D.A., “why does the West, again and again, seek to involve itself militarily in the affairs of Arabs? Isn’t this just the old colonial waltz? And don’t give me this rot about opposing dictators and promoting liberty. There are plenty of dictators in the butter that you spread on your bread. Talk about hypocrisy, I don’t see you, or your European allies, making plans to bomb Damascus. If protecting civilians is important, why aren’t you protecting Syrian civilians?’’

“Surely the Arab Spring is a glorious happening, a triumph of liberty over tyranny,’’ I said, weakly, trying to herd the conversation into greener pastures.

“You don’t really think the Egyptian army is going to allow its power to be threatened,’’ the D.A. snapped. “Your liberal tweeters and Facebookers that you Westerners make so much of are but a thin frosting on the Egyptian cake, and darker forces are gathering below to take power should the army let them. And the relationship between Egypt and Israel - the cornerstone of your Middle East policy - is falling apart before your eyes.

“Furthermore,’’ the Devil’s Advocate continued, “the whole world sees the failure of your political classes to even keep your own house in order, ideological fanatics in Congress rolling your increasingly weak-kneed president. Your world influence is rapidly declining, and you’ll lose even more when you veto Palestinian national aspirations at the United Nations.’’

“Enough,’’ I interrupted, “I’ll listen to no more of this,’’ and I bodily threw the unpleasant fellow down the stair. But, alas, I know he’ll be back.

H.D.S. Greenway’s column appears regularly in the Globe.