‘Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, scorn all others,” said Septimius Severus as he bequeathed the Roman Empire to his two sons.
Severus now comes to mind because he hailed from the same Libya where the unraveling of Rome’s successor, the European Union, was fanned seven years ago this month.
An effective emperor, Severus expanded Rome’s frontiers, fought wars from Scotland to Iraq, fortified Rome’s borders, and raised military spending so sharply that he had to reduce the amount of silver in the imperial currency, the denarius, gradually devaluing it by 25%.
Severus was no great visionary. He thought his sons would share his political estate – instead, one had the other assassinated – and his military spending was part of the imperial overreach that spawned Rome’s decline.
Even so, that Libyan understood Europe. The Europeans of August 2011, by contrast, did not understand Libya, whose civil war would be their Pearl Harbor.
REBEL FORCES nestled in the Nafusa Mountains descended in August 2011 on Libya’s Mediterranean coast, taking town after town before reaching Tripoli, where Muammar Gaddafi and his sons were besieged.
A bloodied madman who terrorized the West, murdered opponents, robbed his people, invaded neighbors, and destabilized the Middle East and also Africa – Gaddafi was rightly the ultimate bad guy throughout the West. Gloating at his unfolding demise the way, for instance, London’s Daily Mail did when reporting the colonel “is hiding like a rat,” was therefore natural.
Less natural was European leaders’ response.
Joining the general glee, British prime minister David Cameron said that August that Tripoli was being overtaken “by free Libyan fighters,” and that the “task now is to do all we can to support the will of the Libyan people, which is for an effective transition to a free, democratic and inclusive Libya.”
The number of unfounded assumptions hidden in this statement alone is astonishing: the fighters in Tripoli had little appreciation for the Western value of freedom that Cameron implied they espoused; Libya’s citizens did not share any single aim, other than to storm each other; and most embarrassingly, there was no Libyan people at all, only a jumble of antagonistic tribes that would soon tear their country asunder, first between its east and west, then between multiple warlords.
Emerging arm in arm in Tripoli following Gaddafi’s escape, Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the fallen dictator’s justice minister, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, whom they mistook for an Arab Vaclav Havel because he now headed Libya’s National Transition Council.
“This will be a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned process with broad international support coordinated by the UN,” said Cameron the previous month, “and I am in close contact with partners from NATO, the Arab League and with chairman Jalil himself.”
Just who Europe’s new man in Libya really was became clear 10 weeks on, when Jalil said the new Libya’s law should be based on the Sharia.
Needless to say that the Europeans who mistook Jalil for a freedom fighter were the same ones who had no idea he wielded no power; the same ones who had no idea that the cartographic entity he purported to lead was a political charade; the same ones who had not the faintest idea that what they were celebrating as Libya’s “liberation” was actually about to accelerate Europe’s disintegration.
Yes, Gaddafi was a murderer, a liar, and a major-league whacko, but he knew what he was saying when he warned on 30 April 2011 on Russian TV: “Now you people in NATO listen to me: You are bombing the wall that stopped African immigration.”
Gaddafi was not a prophet. He simply looked at how poor Africans and Arabs wanted out, and at how geography made his country their natural gateway to Europe.
Europe’s leaders didn’t look, and since they didn’t look they didn’t see.
EUROPE’S LEADERS didn’t see Libya’s political fictitiousness and social decay. That is why in 2009 alone they sold more than €344 million worth of arms (Der Spiegel, 24 February 2011) to the same Gaddafi whose downfall they would soon applaud.
Similarly, Europe’s leaders didn’t see the economic despair that lurked opposite their continent, where a migratory groundswell was waiting to explode.
Had they assigned their spy agencies to explore the Middle East’s social guts and political arteries, they might have preempted what it had in store for their union.
Instead, the Arab civil wars uncorked the migratory tsunami whose onslaught made Brussels lose Britain’s membership and Central Europe’s obedience, while fresh anti-immigration political forces unsettled governments from Berlin and Vienna to Stockholm and Rome.
European leaders didn’t see all this coming because psychologically they were fine with dictators who gave the Arab masses none of Europe’s freedom, prosperity, equality and rule of law.
Emigration was to be prevented not by Arab salvation but by Arab oppression. That is why the EU, according to Der Spiegel, paid Gaddafi €50m. in 2010 to block African refugees.
This moral hypocrisy and political tunnel vision was willed to Europe by its Common Market’s co-founder Charles de Gaulle when he betrayed Israel in 1967, taking its dictatorial enemies’ side while they vowed, and visibly prepared, to annihilate the Jewish state.
It was then that Europe’s postwar innocence began giving way to the arrogance that in due course would become its union’s undoing.
It took several decades, but eventually what began as a quest to weld former enemies’ economies was taken over by leaders who imposed Europe’s rich North on its poorer South and its liberal West on its conservative East, while launching a currency that defied economics and exposing the continent to an immigration that its people did not want.
It was as though Europe’s leaders were cherry-picking from Severus’s will to his sons: they were not harmonious, and they did not defend their borders, but they did “scorn all others.”
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