Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Turning Point for Gadhafi

This afternoon Moammar Gadhafi and half a dozen of his criminal associates were arrested. It takes a moment to remember that as the year started, Gadhafi was firmly in control of the country of Libya. As journalists look back on Gadhafi’s fall from power, they are identifying the speech of February 22 as the turning point.

The nationally televised address, which included the memorable passage, “inch by inch, room by room, house by house, alleyway by alleyway,” was widely understood as either a threat or an actual plan to kill most of the country’s people. Public opinion was already against Gadhafi, but after that speech, there was no turning back. If no one was safe from Gadhafi’s wrath, then there was no extra risk in putting up a fight. Even the most loyal government officials worried that they too might be on Gadhafi’s list. Those who could fled for their lives, as did the country’s thousands of foreign workers.

Within two days, Gadhafi no longer had a government or a functioning national economy. Most of the regular military changed sides. Gadhafi and his remaining security forces did go on to kill thousands of people, mainly by carpet-bombing and shelling Libya’s cities, but as they met resistance from the country and the world, the number of victims was nowhere near the millions that Gadhafi saw in his mind’s eye on February 22.

No matter who you are, it is important to have friends. It is a point that Gadhafi, when he put his faith in bluster and violence, forgot.