42 years is a long time to rule as an absolute tyrant, and Moammar Gadhafi become quite adept over the years at navigating the world of global diplomacy, transforming Libya from a pariah state (thanks to his nationalization of US oil interests) to US foil to key US ally (thanks to his promise to create new US oil interests in the country).
It wasn’t always clean, and his adopted daughter Hannah was slain in a Reagan-era air strike, but Moammar always seemed to come out on top and, 42 years later, stood astride the region with a certain air of invincibility, close ties (particularly with Britain and Italy), and a populace that was too terrified to question him.
So last week when protesters, bolstered by regime change in Tunisia and Egypt, started rallying for concrete reforms in Libya, most didn’t give the matter much thought, and when reports started coming out of massacres, most assumed Gadhafi, the great tyrant of northern Africa, would quickly crush the dissent, as he so often has in the past.
Things are different now, however. Whether it is social media, the examples in Egypt and Tunisia, or just a population so beaten down that they feel they have nothing left to lose, the bloodbaths have failed, and failed miserably. 300 are dead, likely many more to come, and the protests are only growing.
Something else is growing, the sense of inevitability. When Saif al-Islam Gadhafi (Moammar’s son) took to the air of the state media today, it was an act that positively reeked of desperation. Claims that the protesters were all drunk are just silly, as are the claims that their fall would mean a US occupation. The comments about needing passports to go from Baghrazi to Tripoli were a tacit admission that the government has lost all control over East Libya. With Tripoli now seeing protests too, they are clearly on the way out.
The beatings in Tunisia failed. The stalling tactics in Egypt failed. Now the massacre strategy in Libya has failed (and is failing in Bahrain as well). The tyrants have officially run out of tricks, and the public calls for real change must win out.
It must be particularly disconcerting for Gadhafi, who has seen his rule virtually unquestioned domestically for decades, and any sedition quickly and efficiently crushed. Who would have thought that the day would come when bloodbaths would stop working? Now that they have, the “president-for-life” model appears to be obsolete.