Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I very much supported the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben-Ali in Tunisia. But I could not drum up the requisite passion to write anything about it here. But terrible as it must have been to live in Egypt or Tunisia in recent decades, the authoritarian apparatus of Libya makes most other dictatorships look in comparison like representative democracies. Second only to Saddam, Qaddafi must stand as having presided over the most repressive state apparatus of the Modern Middle East. Like Kim Jong-Il, one cannot be fooled by the craziness of how he appears on television. The very mention of his name can elicit terror to Libyans. The ears of his secret police extend to every reach of his police state in a manner that can only be compared to East Germany at its most efficient. The best argument against pitching Qaddafi into the elite class of tyrants would be to claim that he had not sanctioned state sponsored murder on the scale of the worst dictatorships in modern history. This statement was, relatively speaking, true.

Until this week.

Qaddafi has now warned of a coming civil war. As with totalitarian governments from time immemorial, the rulers warn of the terrible things that might happen in the future - which they themselves then perpetrate. Estimates in Italy tell that 1000 people have already died in the brewing conflict.

Qaddafi declared himself willing to die a martyr. But it's likely that he has little choice in that regard. If he were to relinquish his power, where would he go? In Libya he'd be a dead man walking, and his penchant for denouncing other governments at the slightest provocation has earned him few friends. Even fewer of his remaining friends would be willing to withstand the condemnation of the international community if they granted him asylum. Furthermore, even if Qaddafi found asylum, could his underlings find asylum as well? One can only be terrified for how bloody this conflict has the potential to become. Furthermore, with (hopefully) newly burgeoning democracies in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt, this conflict could easily spill around the region.

Qaddafi knows that he has a stranglehold on the world economy and is playing it to the hilt. The Dow Jones has gone down more than 2% in the last two days. He has threatened to torch the entirety of Libya's oil reserves, which will raise the price of oil by another 20 or 30 dollars per barrel. The entire world could very shortly stand on the brink of (at best) a double dip recession, simply because of a madman who wants to exit the world with a Wagnerian climax.

The world is a dangerous place. Sometimes more dangerous, sometimes less. But it survives because people are resilient and some people are even good. This could be earthshattering event that changes the world irrevocably, it could also be quite a bit less than that. It will probably be something in between, as usual. Let's just hope that the good people live on to fight the next battle.

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