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Obama and Gaddafi: An irreverent comparison

“All my people love me. They would die to protect me,” said Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi towards the end of February 2011 in the midst of massive protests against his 42-year rule.

Did he understand what he was saying? Did he really mean what he was saying, or was he (once again) playing the fool — a feat he has become famous for over the years? Subsequent utterances and events seem to suggest that there was more than jest and make-believe buffoonery in his statement.

It seems that this man has come to wholeheartedly believe the lies he tells himself about himself. Is he not the revolutionary liberator of Libya? Funder and founder of the African Union! Is that not the real reason why African Union leaders are at sixes and sevens? The shepherd is under attack and the sheep are running helter-skelter. Gaddafi, proponent extraordinaire for the United States of Africa! The only one brave enough to tell the Arab League where to get off! Did the great Nelson Mandela not make a special pilgrimage in October 1997 — against formidable odds — to go and “bow” before the brother leader? Did Gaddafi not use the legendary “Madiba magic” to worm his way back into favour with the likes of Britain and the US? In time, did American, British, Italian and French leaders not go back — one by one — to “kneel” before the “king of kings”?

Such was his shock at the temerity of those who dared to protest against his “popular”, “democratic” and “indirect” rule, that Gaddafi went straight into denial. The protesters were only a handful, he said. They were nothing more than a few youths under the influence of drugs and al-Qaeda. The protests were a fleeting occurrence that would pass as quickly as they had started. From denial he moved quickly to anger and from anger to war — and war he has been waging against his own people ever since.

The United Nations and Nato have since entered the fray, but the goal of their military intervention remains as unclear today as it was controversial at the beginning. Ostensibly they are there for no other reason than to protect civilians and to do so without meaning to change the Gaddafi regime. Can the one thing be pursued in such a way as not to impact on the other? Would and could any of the two be pursued without regard to Libyan oil and to the strategic significance post-Gadaffi in Middle Eastern geopolitics?

It may be that neither the utterances of Nato and the UN on the one hand, nor those of Gaddafi on the other, can be trusted completely. The wording of the relevant UN resolution — pertaining to the aims of the establishment of the no-fly zone — is as dodgy as the aims of the military intervention are. At what point can the Libyan civilians be declared comprehensively and permanently protected — especially if such protection is to be secured without necessarily removing Gaddafi from power?

While we may have come to expect double-speak from Gaddafi, I thought we could expect better from US President Barack Obama, no?

We had hoped that he would lead us away from the global Euro-American war-lordism dressed-up variously as the “war against communism”, “war on terror”, and more recently, “war waged in order to protect civilians”. Is it too much to expect the president of the world’s superpower to opt for anything less straightforward than war? Here is a president who tells us that his troops “are leaving Iraq to its people, stopping the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan, and going after al-Qaeda all across the globe”. Here is a president currently fighting wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya — all at once.

While Obama has assured us that “broadening our military mission [in Libya] to include regime change would be a mistake”, he has also declared, much like George W Bush before him, that as Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces, he “will never hesitate to use our military swiftly, decisively, and unilaterally when necessary to defend our people, our homeland, our allies and our core interests”.

But would it be too much to expect from a Noble Peace Prize laureate — even from one who has proceeded to war as if he had never received the peace prize — a little honesty and truthfulness? If he argues that military intervention is inevitable in Afghanistan and now in Libya, he should at least be honest with us regarding the real reasons and real aims of military action. He cannot seriously hope that we will all believe him when he says, as he said in his speech on Libya given at the end of March 2011, that US forces are in Libya simply because Libya is “a problem worth solving” for the US. At the risk of sounding repetitive — what about Zimbabwe and Yemen and Syria and Israel? Are they not problems worth solving?

Otherwise, what is the principle difference between Obama and the likes of George W Bush and Tony Blair, who justified their invasion of Iraq with the promise of weapons of mass destruction soon to be unearthed? Now we know that Obama has authorised the use of drones, and they have already been unleashed in Libya. In the meantime, Britain and France have sent specialised personnel to “advise”, “train” and “instruct” the “rebels” fighting the “pro-Gaddafi forces”.

Does it occur to Obama and Nato that the so-called “rebels” are themselves civilians who the UN resolution is meant to protect? In reality there are two armies in combat in Libya today. The US-Nato army and the Gaddafi army — the rest, including the so-called rebels, are civilians.

In between these two armies stand innocent civilians who are being terrorised and butchered. Slowly but surely we are moving towards a full-scale ground war, in which the so-called rebels may become canon-fodder for the Libyan forces, as these so-called rebels will surely form the frontline with Nato forces — drones and all — hovering safely in the skies. And the hands of the Noble Peace laureate become bloodier by the day.

I was ready to sell all my belongings in order to afford a ticket to Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. But when I heard recently that he was launching his re-election campaign, I cringed. Obama and Gaddafi may be different, but insofar as they each, in his own way, seek to undermine our intelligence by being less than honest with us, they are comparable.

Author

  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

    Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.