Channel 4 News reports from Tripoli a few minutes ago today, Aug 23, 2011:
The UK's Guardian also reports about an hour ago that "Muammar Gaddafi's seat of power in Tripoli has fallen as rebel fighters swarmed into his fortified compound, stamping on a gilded bronze head of the deposed despot and setting fire to his famous tent in a cathartic end to his 42-year dictatorship."
The Libyan leader and his family, however, were nowhere to be found. If they had indeed spent the last days of their rule inside their walled citadel, Bab al-Aziziya, they had since melted away, possibly through the labyrinth of tunnels that lie beneath the compound, an insurance policy against such a day.
With Gaddafi's fate unknown, nobody could say for sure whether the bloodshed was over for good. In the streets beyond the compound, gunfire continued to ring out, although it was unclear whether it was a result of continued skirmishes or celebrations. There were also reports of sporadic looting as darkness fell.
And in scenes reminiscent of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq:
A handful of rebels also tore the golden face off Gaddafi's statue, throwing it to the ground, prodding it with rifles and kicking it, while others climbed on to the roof of the building, little more than a shell after repeated Nato bombing sorties, and unfurled the red, black and green flag of pre-Gaddafi Libya.
A few yards away, Gaddafi's trademark tent, where he would receive visiting dignitaries, burned furiously.
Outside, a rebel guerrilla had donned one of Gaddafi's grey and gold ceremonial caps and draped a gold chain around his neck. "Libyans will shock the world," he promised Sky News. "We want to start a new life, a new Libya."
In the midst of the triumph, however, it soon became clear that the man who had ruled Libya for 42 years had slipped away...
George Jonas, writing at Canada's National Post today asks: Could Libya’s next rulers be worse than Gaddafi?
Even allowing for the uneasy relationship between reporting and reality from both sides in Libya’s civil war, Muammar Gaddafi’s regime seems on its last legs. Feeling jubilant over the downfall of Libya’s tyrant wouldn’t be a hard task as a rule. A particularly loathsome specimen even by Middle East standards, Gaddafi’s departure would have felt like a net gain for humanity as well as for his own country in 1969, when he seized power; in the 1970s, when he was murdering his rivals and opponents; in the 1980s, when he was sponsoring and facilitating terrorism all over the world; and in the 1990s and 2000s, when he was merely assassinating dissidents while pretending to turn over a new leaf.
But, except for token shows of force, no one took him on. He was virtually rehabilitated, even fussed over at the 2009 G8 summit by the very NATO leaders who spent the last few months trying to dethrone and preferably pulverize him.
I agree with the Middle East Forum’s Daniel Pipes. The noted American commentator wrote a couple of days ago that he wasn’t joining those ready to party over the political demise of the foul Libyan Colonel just yet.
“The NATO intervention in March 2011,” Pipes wrote, “was done without due diligence as to who it is in Benghazi that it was helping. To this day, their identity is a mystery. Chances are good that Islamist forces are hiding behind more benign elements, waiting for the right moment to pounce, as roughly happened in Iran in 1978-79, when Islamists did not make clear their strength nor their program until the shah was well disposed of. Should that be the case in Libya today, then the miserable Gaddafi will prove to be better than his successors for both the Libyan subjects of tyranny and the West.”
Indeed. For the West to welcome the replacement of a friendly despot with an unfriendly democrat may show altruism, but welcoming the replacement of a friendly despot with an unfriendly despot shows only naiveté. As for pursuing replacement policies without finding out who is about to replace whom — well, there’s a word for that, too. It’s called negligence.