As the Arab freedom wave reached Libya last week, Moammar Gadhafi reacted as he so often has during his benighted 42-year reign—by murdering his own people. The revolt against the aging state terrorist appears to have reached a point of no return, and the U.S. and Europe should be doing far more to help the Libyan people end Gadhafi's rule.
Al Jazeera reports that Libya's second largest city, Benghazi, is already under rebel control. Gadhafi's Justice Minister is reported to have resigned, along with his Ambassador to the Arab League. In a press conference yesterday in the lobby of the Libyan mission to the U.N. in New York, Libya's deputy diplomatic liaison Ibrahim Dabbashi led a dozen or so of his colleagues in denouncing Gadhafi for "crimes against humanity and crimes of war."
Protesters claim that some of the army and police have turned against the regime, and on Monday there were violent clashes in the regime stronghold of Tripoli. Two Libyan fighter pilots defected to Malta rather than bomb protesters. Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Gadhafi has ruled with terror and payoffs to Libya's powerful tribes. But now some of those tribes have turned against him.
Unconfirmed reports Monday had Gadhafi fleeing Tripoli or the country, but that was after his son, Saif al-Islam, warned in a rambling TV speech about "civil war," said "the armed forces are with" his father, and vowed that "we will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."
Until it "suspended" him yesterday, Saif was dubbed a "Young Global Leader" by the grandees at the World Economic Forum in Geneva. A State Department official—who spoke on background, fortunately for his reputation—told the press Sunday that the U.S. was "analyzing the speech of Saif al-Islam Gadhafi to see what possibilities it contains for meaningful reform." Is that analysis taking place during or in between bombing runs?
The British have been somewhat better, with Foreign Secretary William Hague saying Saturday "that just because there aren't television cameras present at the scenes that are going on in Libya, that does not mean that the world is not watching, and that doesn't mean that the world is going to ignore the way in which protesters and demonstrators are treated." A day later, the U.S. finally mustered up a denunciation against the use of force.
It's time for the West to drop its studied neutrality and help Libyans topple one of the world's most loathsome regimes. Paul Wolfowitz has some useful suggestions nearby, starting with humanitarian aid and support from Western capitals to keep communications open inside the country. Mr. Dabbashi, Libya's rebelling minister to the U.N., recommends a "no fly zone" to prevent Gadhafi from importing mercenaries.
We'd go further and tell the Libyan armed forces that the West will bomb their airfields if they continue to slaughter their people. Arming the demonstrators also cannot be ruled out. The Libyan government is already blaming the protests on foreign help, and the protesters are facing a life or death struggle. The worst policy would be to encourage the demonstrators without giving them the tools to prevail.
Gadhafi was already threatening the European Union last week that he would suspend cooperation on illegal immigration to Europe unless it stays quiet as he guns down pro-democracy forces. The threat, communicated to the Hungarian ambassador, is a measure of his contempt for the West and its leaders.
Long before al Qaeda, Gadhafi was the Arab world's terrorist-in-chief. In April 1984, a gunman inside the Libyan embassy on St. James's Square in London opened fire on protesters, killing a British constable. The assassin was never identified. Two years later, Libyan agents bombed a discotheque in West Berlin, killing three and wounding 230, including 50 American servicemen. In 1988, Libyans blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 on board and on the ground.
Gadhafi had a change of heart after the U.S. toppled Saddam in 2003, ending his secret nuclear program and inviting Western capital to exploit oil resources that his own country lacks the means to develop. The U.S. and Britain leapt at the chance in far too unseemly a fashion.
Gadhafi's internal tyranny has never ceased, and in 2009 his government bullied the U.K. into releasing one of the Lockerbie bombers, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, from a Scottish prison on bogus humanitarian grounds. He's still alive in Libya two years later. Some of the communications and military equipment that British companies have sold to Libya since the Megrahi deal might well have been deployed to kill Libyans in recent days.
It is hard to believe, but the Obama Administration seemed more eager to topple Egypt's Hosni Mubarak than it has Moammar Gadhafi, who has more American blood on his hands than anyone living other than Osama bin Laden. Now that the Libyan people are rising against him, they deserve urgent and tangible American support.