At great cost to American taxpayers, the Obama Administration lent its support to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi, predicting a new regime that would be one friendly to the Libyan people and to the West. As with virtually every attempt to influence the politics of that region of the world, our ill-conceived and unwarranted adventure into Libyan domestic affairs has produced a bitter fruit: not a regime friendly to the West but a radical Islamist state. The head of the new Libyan government, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, announced to the horror of Western observers that the new Libya would be a radical Islamist state, replete with the Sharia law and renewed subjugation of women. So much for the argument that we intervened to save the people of Libya from a government that would oppress them.
The brutal end suffered by Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is a fate known to many in that country not just in recent times but throughout the ages. All too often the “justice” meted out in Libya is one of summary violence by a strong man or by a victorious tribal leader against a defeated enemy. Whether murder was visited upon the Libyan people by Gaddafi’s secret police or is visited upon Gaddafi by the rebel militia, it is one and the same, summary execution without the benefit of a trial.
The new Libya is really a continuation of the old Libya, a nation defined by competing tribes and dominated by tribal strong men. Other than material development made possible by oil money, Libya is very much still a nation of Islamic tribes.
Immediately following World War II, my father, Ernest A. Emord, arrived in Tripoli, Libya, and was stationed at Wheelus Air Base (now Mitiga International Airport), some nine miles East of the Libyan capitol. Tripoli had been occupied by the Italian army of Benito Mussolini, an army that retreated in ignominious defeat at the war’s end, having slaughtered many Bedouins to reassert control over the country. Indeed, the name Libya is the Italian name given to the country. My father was the navigator on a U.S. Army Air Corps PBY Catalina and flew on reconnaissance missions across the Libyan dessert and over the Mediterranean Sea in search of downed Allied aircraft and lost Allied military personnel.
On one occasion, my father and another American soldier drove a jeep into the desert near Tripoli encountering tribesmen on horseback armed with carbine rifles. The tribesmen were apparently wealthy, possessed not only of fine horses but also of elaborate garments and jewelry. Seeing the Americans from a distance, the tribesmen mounted their horses and began galloping in the direction of the jeep. After a few moments, my father and his companion realized that they meant to do the Americans harm. My father swiftly tried to escape from the desert. The horses moved rapidly across the sands and the jeep was not as efficient.
My father and his companion abandoned their jeep and climbed into the ancient Roman Sabratha ruins on the outskirts of Tripoli in an effort to evade their pursuers. The effort failed, so both men made their way into a dark and narrow passage in the ruins that extended precariously along the coastline of the Mediterranean. The nomads gave chaise and entered the same area, eventually finding the two men who had but one side arm between them. My father’s companion stood in the narrow passage against a wall. My father stood a few stairs above him near an opening. As each Arab proceeded up the narrow passage, he eventually met my father’s companion who belted the man, forcing him against the wall and then pushing him up to my father. My father then delivered a severe beating to the man ultimately pitching him over a wall to his death on the rocky shoreline of the Mediterranean. This happened several times before the remaining Arabs perceived what had happened and chose to abandon the effort. My father, a former professional boxer (with a record of 57 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw), remembered that each punch he landed on the rib cages of the Arabs produced a cracking sound. He believed the nomads so poorly nourished that they seemed to be possessed of hollow bones, like bats.
The Libyans are a people caught in a crossroads of history, variously occupied at different times by the Romans, the Ottomans, the Spanish, the Nazis, and the Italians. On the heels of Italian withdrawal from Libya, shortly after World War II, the Americans formed a very small contingent in the country, largely centered at Wheelus Air Base. The Soviets were also present, as the Cold War began to rear its ugly head. The Soviets paid Arabs to attack the tiny American embassy in Tripoli. Not too infrequently a crowd comprised of angry Arabs would form in front of the embassy, bribed in most instances to do so. Some would invariably attempt to climb into the compound. On each such attempt, a single American marine on the roof of the embassy would fire a machine gun into the air and, if to no avail, at the intruders. Thereafter, the mob would retreat until again induced to return.
With this history as a backdrop, it comes as no surprise that Libya, a nation with a long history of Bedouin rule by strong men and little true democratic experience would respond to the brutal dictatorship of Gaddafi with another regime dedicated to the same kind of brutality. It should not surprise us that one dictatorship appears to have given way to another, even if that other is ultimately labeled an Islamic “democracy.” It should not surprise us that torture, lack of due process, and oppression continue in Libya because those have been common in the long history of the country and appear irresistible to its leaders.
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What the Obama Administration should have learned from this history, it did not. So, Obama, like his European counterparts, invested billions and precious American lives on an adventure in Libya to protect the Libyan people only to discover that the new governors he helped usher into power are guilty of the same kinds of atrocities as the old.
© 2011 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved