The death of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi has become one of the most contested moments of Libya’s eight-month war. The exact circumstances of the colonel’s demise on October 20 are unclear, but evidence is mounting that Libya’s former ruler was killed — extra-judicially executed — by the band of young gunmen who captured him.
The UN Security Council has been a key arbiter of international action regarding the upheavals in the Arab world in 2011. In late February, the Council issued Resolution 1970 calling for an “immediate end to the violence” in Libya, imposing sanctions and an arms embargo, and asking the International Criminal Court to investigate the regime of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Less than a month later, on March 17, the Council passed Resolution 1973 authorizing NATO “to take all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians, leading to Qaddafi’s eventual fall from power. In late September, the Security Council will also take up the request of Palestinian leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas for full UN membership for a state of Palestine.
Half an hour’s drive east of Tripoli, a solitary interim government soldier peers through binoculars, scouring Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s hunting ranch — known as the farms — for signs of life. Detritus of war litters the savannah, the remains of recent fighting as Qaddafi’s forces fled east from the Libyan capital to their strongholds in the center of the country. Flies swarm around parts of bodies dismembered when a NATO bomb flattened the colonel’s Moorish villa, replete with its nests for hawks. Wooden cases are strewn amidst the olive trees; all the boxes are empty, save two that house unused heat-seeking missiles six feet long. The cages of the predatory animals raised for hunting lie open, and the anti-Qaddafi fighter seems as concerned by their escape as their owner’s.
To the average American, the NATO intervention in Libya may look like another Iraq: another US-led adventure aiming to dislodge a would-be totalitarian Middle Eastern state with lots of oil and sand. The topography of the two countries is similar: The land is flat and parched, and the architecture dun and unloved. Even the terminology sounds the same, with the “no-fly zone” subject to “mission creep” that is rapidly turning its goal into “regime change.”
Reasonable, principled people can disagree about whether, in an ideal world, Western military intervention in Libya’s internal war would be a moral imperative. With Saddam Hussein dead and gone, there is arguably no more capricious and overbearing dictator in the Arab world than Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. The uprising of the Libyan people against him, beginning on February 17, was courageous beyond measure. It seems certain that, absent outside help, the subsequent armed insurrection would have been doomed to sputter amidst the colonel’s bloody reprisals.
Since the rule of Col. Muammar Qaddafi had been even more gruesome than that of neighboring dictators, the Libyan people’s release from captivity by the February 17 uprising pulsated with an unparalleled hope. Freed from a ban on public assembly of four or more persons, rebel-held towns across Libya thronged with celebrants late into the night. Benghazi, Libya’s second city, which the colonel had stripped of its museums, cinemas and cultural symbols, including the mausoleum of its anti-colonial hero, ‘Umar Mukhtar, buzzed with impromptu memorials to Qaddafi’s victims, political theater, songs and art, and mass open-air prayers. And after four decades in which one man had appropriated the right to speak on behalf of a country, Libyans in their hundreds of thousands recovered their voice. “Your place, Muammar,” scrawl protesters on upturned rubbish bins.
Stability is the least understood and most derided of the trio of strategic interests pursued by the United States in the Middle East since it became the region’s sole superpower. Vexing, because it is patently obvious code for coziness with kings, presidents-for-life and other unsavory autocrats. Perplexing, because it seems to involve only cost, lacking the material benefit of protecting oil deposits or the domestic political profit of backing Israel, the two other members of the troika.
Under a tent in Benghazi on August 30, 2008, Silvio Berlusconi bowed symbolically before the son of ‘Umar al-Mukhtar, hero of the Libyan resistance to Italian colonial rule. “It is my duty to express to you, in the name of the Italian people, our regret and apologies for the deep wounds that we have caused you,” said the Italian premier.  Eastern Libya was the site of the bulk of the armed resistance to the Italian occupation, which lasted from 1911 to 1943. More than 100,000 Libyans are believed to have died in the counterinsurgency campaign, many in desert prison camps and in southern Italian penal colonies.
On May 15, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the United States would soon open an embassy in Libya, long classified by Washington as an inveterate “rogue state.” This move came, she said, “in recognition of…the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States…in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.” Most discussion of the renewal of US-Libyan relations has focused on two very public and, as Rice put it, “historic” decisions by the Libyan government following the launching of the Iraq war in 2003: one renouncing terrorism and the other abandoning programs for weapons of mass destruction.
The Bush administration renewed US sanctions against Libya earlier this month. The announcement, although expected, frustrated US oil companies, which had hoped to gain access to some of the world’s largest reserves of light crude oil. The rollover of sanctions comes despite the efforts of Libya’s erratic leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi, to convince Washington he is an ally in the war on terrorism, and it stands in stark contrast to recent European moves to improve relations with his regime.
On the last day of May 1993, some 200 Libyan pilgrims alighted from buses that had just crossed from Egypt into the Israeli-occupied Gaza. Strip on the way to Jerusalem. None of the rhetoric in the statement the pilgrims issued at the end of their stay, duly broadcast by the Libyan “Voice of the Great Arab Homeland,” could alter the fact that the visit constituted a de facto Libyan recognition of the state of Israel, and an implicit message to the region and the world that the regime of Muammar Qaddafi no longer threatened to disrupt any eventual political settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. 
The startling changes that have transformed the political landscape of Eastern Europe in 1989 may have no equivalent in the Middle East exactly, but that region has seen some remarkable developments nonetheless. The Arab versions of perestroika, or restructuring, while less profound in comparison with those of Czechoslovakia or Poland, reflect certain realignments of political forces. No regimes have toppled — yet. But from Palestine and Jordan in the Arab east (the Mashriq) to Algeria in the west (the Maghrib), a phenomenon of intifada, or uprising, is challenging the static politics of repression that have prevailed for many years.
In early November 1986, just as the Iran arms story was breaking, Washington Times editor Arnaud de Borchgrave interviewed French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. On November 7, de Borchgrave published a front-page story based on the interview highlighting Chirac’s suspicion, which the prime minister also attributed to West German leaders, that the well-publicized Syrian bomb plot against an Israeli jetliner was concocted by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Israeli and American officials and media were then playing up the London trial of suspect Nizar Hindawi in order to distract attention from the Iran arms scandal and the capture of American mercenary Eugene Hasenfus in Nicaragua.
Basic People’s Committees
When the United States sent its warplanes to bomb Libya last spring, a first and then a second invasion of Western journalists descended upon the country. With the media in box seats, the scenario conjured up visions of the 1830 French invasion of Algiers, when well-heeled citizens of the Republic hired luxury liners to observe the military proceedings first hand.
Tripoli, June 1986—Two months after US warplanes bombed Tripoli, piles of rubble lie virtually untouched in the comfortable tree-lined neighborhood of Ben Ashour. An arch has been erected to commemorate the raid, displaying a gaudy painting of war planes on fire as they swoop down on innocent residents. The state radio rarely lets an hour pass without a reference to April 15, the night of “barbaric Atlanticist aggression.” Neither Libya nor its leadership has yet been able to put the raid behind them.
Noam Chomsky has been active in the movement against US military intervention for many years. His most recent book on the Middle East is The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (South End, 1986). His latest book, Turning the Tide (South End, 1986), is on US policy toward Central America. Joan Mandell and Zachary Lockman spoke with him in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in late April.
Why Libya and why right now?
When Ronald Reagan ordered US warplanes to attack Libya on April 15, terrorism was the occasion rather than the cause. Like the electronic confetti spewed out to muddle Libyan radar screens, the terrorism issue was snow to disarm and deflect critics of American military intervention. Such intervention is an essential part of the Reagan Administration’s regimen for restoring Washington’s command of global politics.