What Col. Gadhafi’s letter reveals

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Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has always been something of a riddle wrapped inside a mystery wrapped inside a ruthless egomaniac. Unquestionably, he is a bad man and brutal dictator. We like to think, although history continuously reminds us that we are wrong, that only a crazy man would threaten to kill everyone who disagrees with him and then enthusiastically begin to carry out that threat, as Col. Gadhafi has done in dealing with Libyans who have rebelled against his regime.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/04/2011 (4322 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has always been something of a riddle wrapped inside a mystery wrapped inside a ruthless egomaniac. Unquestionably, he is a bad man and brutal dictator. We like to think, although history continuously reminds us that we are wrong, that only a crazy man would threaten to kill everyone who disagrees with him and then enthusiastically begin to carry out that threat, as Col. Gadhafi has done in dealing with Libyans who have rebelled against his regime.

It takes a clever man, however, to survive more than 40 years as a dictator, as Col. Gadhafi has done, and, in the course of that four decades, to go from a pariah in the West to a kind of popular, almost darling, darkling dictator to becoming the rather pathetic and almost universally despised despot we see today.

Whether he really is crazy or very clever or, more likely, a little bit of both, is a question that preoccupies much of the world these days, but nowhere so much as in the White House and at President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign headquarters.

Mr. Obama this week launched his bid to prove that he is not a one-trick pony, a one-term wonder. He wants to prove that he, like previous presidents such as his immediate predecessor, the inimitable George W. Bush, can win the two full terms that an American president is allowed.

The present president’s quest is not an easy one. Mr. Obama’s appeal is considerably diminished from what it was in the glory days of 2008 when, at the height of his popularity, he outpolled a faltering John McCain by only seven per cent of the popular vote to win the White House.

This week, getting a jump on what might turn out to be a tight race — even though no opponent has yet declared — he sent about 13 million emails to Americans seeking some campaign cash today and asking for their votes in 2012.

On Wednesday, he got a ringing endorsement, although it may not have been exactly the endorsement he wanted. Col. Gadhafi sent Mr. Obama a letter, asking him to please tell NATO to stop attacking his air bases and military installations — the UN authorized enforcement of a no-fly zone is interfering with the Libyan leader’s announced plans to massacre a large part of the Libyan population.

Although he has been “hurt” by the Obama-supported alliance action, Col. Gadhafi says in the letter, “you will always remain our son whatever happened. We still pray that you continue to be president of the U.S.A.”

He goes on to write affectionately: “Our dear son, Excellency, Baraka Hussein Abu oumama, your intervention is (sic) the name of the U.S.A. is a must, so that NATO would withdraw finally from the Libyan affair.”

This is probably not the launch for his campaign that Mr. Obama had envisioned or the response he hoped for when he sent out his 13 million emails. His middle name — Hussein — has already been the subject of much political discussion among Americans who have a baseless but understandable, after 9/11, suspicion of Islamist imperialism, and polls indicate that a full 20 per cent of Americans already believe that their president — Baraka Hussein Abu oumama, as the colonel calls him — is, in fact, a secret Muslim.

Actually, Mr. Obama is not a Muslim. In the last election campaign, his peculiar but proudly proclaimed Christianity was as an even greater election issue than his alleged Islamism. He is certainly not, even figuratively, the Libyan leader’s “dear son;” rather, he is Col. Gadhafi’s nemesis in the sense that without American participation, the UN-mandated military intervention in the skies over Libya would likely never have happened and the “leader of the revolution,” as he, ironically, likes to call himself these days, would still be free to run roughshod over his people. And it would not take much more than an American nod for alliance ground forces to begin operating in Libya.

So what, then, is one to make of this letter? Is Col. Gadhafi being clever or crazy? If it was an attempt to get back at Mr. Obama for America’s leadership of the initial military action against Libya, it may have been the colonel trying to be clever. It is embarrassing for the president, and there are quite a few Americans credulous or partisan enough to believe almost anything.

But if it was written in the serious belief that it might sway Mr. Obama and NATO into ending the action against Libya, it was purely crazy, an act of desperation from a dying dictatorship.

The letter may, in truth, reveal how vulnerable Col. Gadhafi feels, how close his government is to collapsing. Rather than a way to persuade the world to leave Libya alone, it serves as a message that if the world were only doing a little bit more — arming the rebels, putting in a few soldiers on the ground to prevent the continuing slaughter of civilians — then this conflict could be over in a matter of days or weeks rather than months or years.

Both those actions and others are allowed under the UN mandate. Mr. Obama should show now that he has the stuff to be a two-term president and give the nod. Col. Gadhafi is teetering on the edge of the abyss. It would not take much of a push to send him over the edge.

tom.oleson@freepress.mb.ca

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