Libyan rebels on the outskirts of Tripoli foreshadow the demise of Col. Moammar Gadhafi's four decades of dictatorship.
But Gadhafi's not gone -- yet -- and the Libyan Civil War of 2011 may or may not end even if he goes in a coffin or on a jet into Venezuelan exile.
In comparison, Tunisia's and Egypt's revolts were quite restrained. Popular protests broke Zine el Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisian regime. Ben Ali essentially ran a family mob operation. Skimming billions was his objective. Can't spend it dead. When the Tunisian Army refused to back him, he fled to Saudi Arabia.
Egypt's Hosni Mubarak raked in several billion, but he also saw himself as a soldier ensuring national stability. When his fellow generals convinced him he was triggering national instability, he left for a villa in Sinai.
In Libya, however, anti-government demonstrations quickly spiraled into bloody combat and atrocity.
Libya's dictatorship differs from those that ruled Tunisia and Egypt. The difference begins with Gadhafi himself. Unlike Ben Ali and Mubarak, Gadhafi is a megalomaniacal crank absolutely sold on his own history-altering significance. After he overthrew Libya's monarchy in 1969, he announced that he was a great leader but lacked a great nation. So he decided to expand his power to a size more compatible with his ego by invading neighbors and sowing chaos.
He invaded Chad. He supported terrorists and assassins who launched attacks in Africa and Europe. He sought chemical and nuclear weapons. Truly great leaders are also philosophical visionaries, so the colonel created his own ideology, a mad amalgam of pan-Arabism and socialism with a dash of Islamic revolution.
He has suffered numerous defeats, but damaging his ego takes American power. The 1986 U.S. air raid, following a Libyan terror bombing in Germany, scared him. When the U.S. toppled Saddam in 2003, he ended his nuclear weapons quest. Violent megalomaniacs who have successfully terrorized their domestic opposition for decades, however, don't go without a bloodbath. Saddam didn't -- nor will Gadhafi.
Gadhafi's military reflects Gadhafi's commitment to himself. The core of his army is a 5,000-man regime-maintenance brigade that is loyal to him, not Libya. In contrast, Tunisia's and Egypt's armed forces are fundamentally nationalist institutions led by military professionals. Many of their best officers work closely with civilian-controlled Western militaries. Even if they argue that their circumstances differ from France or the U.S., they know democracy works. They have witnessed Spain's transition from Franco's dictatorship to full-fledged membership in NATO and the European Union. They also see Turkey as a model.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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