October 20, 2011
Gaddafi’s Death: Nexus Between War and Peace
Muammar Gaddafi is dead, and that seems to be the limit of what everyone agrees on. How “The Colonel” expired remains anyone’s best guess, even to most of those who crowded around his lifeless body. The time-line of his event degenerates from a precise moment (French aircraft struck an 80-vehicle convoy at 8:30 a.m. local time) into a bloody mess. Gaddafi’s convoy was forced to stop outside of Sirte, where he had camped against conventional logic, and Libyan revolutionaries eventually pulled him from a drainage pipe.
At this point chaos ensued. Whether Gaddafi was injured during the air-strike remains unknown. Salem Bakeer, one of the first NTC fighters to corner his guards and hear his last words, said that he was wounded by gunshots to the leg and back. Several other fighters confirmed the story while being interviewed by NTC officials and foreign journalists. Another fighter, Omran Jouma Shawan, claimed that one of Gaddafi’s guards shot him in the chest. Other accounts have him wounded in the stomach, heart and head before being taken into custody. NTC spokesman Fathi Bashaga said that Gadhafi was found wounded in the neck, and that he bled to death 30 minutes later.
NTC sources first claimed that he was killed during a gunfight after his capture. Yet another account claims that an 18-year old revolutionary shot him moments after his capture - or that Gaddafi was killed by crossfire during his transport back to Sirte’s hospital. However video shows him being pulled from a truck and physically struck before falling the ground. Gunshots are heard and Gaddafi is shown bleeding from what appears to be his head.
One senior NTC official told Reuters, "They captured him alive and while he was being taken away, they beat him and then they killed him. He might have been resisting."
Gaddafi’s end provides a gruesome finish to his 42-year reign. The event certainly leaves much to be desired, but revolutionary war (and war in general) isn’t known to conclude under everyone’s ideal vision. Those who oppose all capital punishment will naturally disagree of his execution, and a captured Gaddafi is preferable to an expediently executed Gaddafi. His justice would offer a beacon to the new Libya, a shining contrast to his bloody corpse. NATO involvement also dampened the NTC’s moment; Paris claims to have been unaware of its target, but the convoy’s size clearly marked a Gaddafi.
Inside was a grisly mess of, “charred skeletal remains of drivers and passengers killed instantly by the strike. Other bodies lay mutilated and contorted strewn across the grass. Some 50 bodies in all.”
The event is over though, and jubilant NTC fighters see no difference between who killed Gaddafi. Finding him in the sewers, like “a rat,” served to counterbalance NATO’s influence and uplift national morale. That the youth captured him is equally symbolic. This end was the next best option to a formal trial, and both the NTC and NATO had low expectations of capturing Gaddafi alive. It may be tempting to extrapolate the chaos of his death to Libya’s political environment, and the NTC has enough investigating to keep people busy for years. However the situation must be flipped as well: Libya’s uprising and NATO’s intervention could have sunk into the desert sand.
The NTC, for all of its regional divisions and localized cells, remains a viable transitional channel into representative government. The NTC and Libya’s new leaders will experience growing pains as they repair a war-torn country, but how else can democracy come into existence? While organizing the aftermath of a revolution or other political upheaval is naturally challenging, “too hard” is no excuse not to try. Libya’s revolutionaries are hungry for a civil government and invigorated by their liberation. They have been doubted throughout their campaign because of NATO’s assistance, when NATO’s mission would have failed without an organized revolution.
Of course NATO states used the NTC for their own purposes, but the reverse also holds true: the NTC successfully leveraged NATO’s military power without ceding too much control in a post-Gaddafi world. Oil will flow to America, Europe, China or whoever else bids highest. NTC will enjoy friendly relations with Western states and international organizations, but a free election will determine Libya’s political orientation. The international community’s expectations will also serve as an external check on the NTC’s transitional process.
“This is only the end of the beginning of the road ahead for Libya and its people,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
International leaders are correct in their observation. Fortunately the beginning of Libya’s end appears to be instilling good governance, not combating the insurgency that Gaddafi threatened and many observers anticipated. The odds of sustained guerrilla warfare were initially low in our estimation, given Gaddafi’s rapid fall from Tripoli, near-total destruction of his conventional forces and waning popular appeal. Libya’s revolutionaries had unified beyond any level that Gaddafi expected, while his own mercenaries lost the invincible feeling that they previously operated under.
Gaddafi’s remnants could organize a small-scale insurgency, finding value in his “martyrdom,” but the entire country is plugged into the NTC’s network. Libya is not Iraq’s fragmented socio-political battleground. As for fears of mass Islamist extremism, one of the fighters crowded into the impromptu briefing of Gaddafi's death was wearing a Yankees hat. The jubilant masses of men, women and children leave no room for al-Qaeda's influence.
The best counterinsurgency is good governance and Libya’s leaders must shift immediately into the “building” stage. With Sirte and Bani Walid taken, the NTC’s political transition has no excuses for delay. Council leaders must fulfill their promises to fix an election schedule and resign after Libya’s sovereignty is secured. All political and military prisoners must be treated with due process. Services must be reconstructed and Libya’s revolutionaries must be disarmed.
Complex as these problems are, Gaddafi’s death opens space for a concentrated push towards Libya’s future.