"I don't think anybody disputes that Gaddafi has more firepower than the opposition," President Obama said at a recent White House news conference.
"I believe that Gaddafi is on the wrong side of history [emphasis added]. I believe that the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now. We are going to be in contact with the opposition, as well as in consultation with the international community, to try to achieve the goal of Mr Gaddafi being removed from power,” the president offered in response to journalists’ questions.
First, the president’s comments at his news conference were most revealing. Let’s examine that supposition: Are the Libyan rebels on the wrong side of history in the Arab world?
You don’t have to get too far into Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis’ many penetrating histories and analyses of the Arab world and Islam before you recognize a pattern. For 1,400 years, we have seen an unvarying succession of rulers—Beys, Deys, Wazirs, Sultans, etc.—who have held power in this vast region. None has come to power through anything like consent of the governed. Pericles of Athens ? No. The Roman Senate? Not in the least.
The history of this region is replete with one strong man after another who came to power through force and who remained in power so long, and only so long, as he had the ruthlessness to kill or exile any rivals for power.
So when our president tells us that Gaddafi is on the wrong side of history, we have to ask: Whose history? Muammar Gaddafi is certainly not out of sync with the unbroken history of his region and culture.
Second, Napoleon’s cynical comment that “God favors the side with the larger artillery” seems at least worth considering here. Napoleon may actually have had greater artillery support at Waterloo than his British and Prussian foes, but he was nonetheless defeated by charging, bayonet-wielding British infantry.
We have yet to see in the ranks of the Libyan rebels—who seem to spend much of their time dangerously firing their rifles in the air—the kind of discipline, skill, and determination required to take down an entrenched tyranny.
Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence, the hapless James R. Clapper, put his chips on Gaddafi’s surviving in testimony before Congress last week.
The White House was at pains to “walk back” Clapper’s statements, but he clearly said he expected Gaddafi to prevail.