The Mafioso Colonel

Gaddafi is a crime-novel caricature whose antics were tolerated by the West because they were profitable, not to mention entertaining. While the world wakes up, Israel's Left and Right should hit the snooze button on their nihil ad rem whining.

No hope for Gaddafi (photo credit: Ronny Gordon)
No hope for Gaddafi
(photo credit: Ronny Gordon)
The Gaddafi clan comes complete with all the stereotypical attributes of a successful veteran crime family. They claim to be from the “Sicily area,” they worship flashy clothing and nothing beats a pair of good shoes. Among their possessions are summer homes on the beach, expensive cars, a small air-force, scores of women, generals and foot soldiers divided into units resembling a military structure, and readily available mercenaries. They concentrate on a major field of business (oil) but have other dealings on the side (terrorism, construction and football). They’re an articulate bunch with a unique, threats-only vocabulary. They exude a defiant us-against-the-world attitude and possess total disdain for the law. So they seem to be just your average garden-variety crime family.
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But they are anything but average. Libyan leader and the undisputed head of the family, Muammar Gaddafi - Mr. Haute Couture himself - has something that few heads of crime families ever had: A country. While there are others out there, (North Korea’s Kim Jong Il springs to mind) in his part of town - the upper-Middle-East side - Gaddafi stands alone. Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Assad dynasty in Syria, the House of Saud in Saudi Arabia all had states, but none had a Louis XIV attitude about it. They were and are all kleptocrats, but there was always something sane about them. And that’s precisely where Gaddafi has an edge on his competitors.
When Gaddafi “came to power” in 1969 (you’ve got to love the way that expression evinces a long and heroic journey), the world was somewhat different: Richard Nixon was merely 8 months into his presidency; Boeing flew its first ever 747 jumbo jet; Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon; the Beatles performed their last concert; some people gathered and sang along in a place called Woodstock in upstate New York; the New York Mets won the world series; Forest Gump went to Vietnam and Israel thought it was invincible, cheerfully swinging its legs on the bank of the Suez Canal and building fortifications. Ah, those were the days.
In a testament to his modesty and down-to-earth attitude, Gaddafi remained a Colonel. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and Colonel Sanders - he of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame -were the most famous colonels in history, perhaps eclipsed only by the Greece’s colonels until 1974. Sure, he proclaimed himself to be a child of the gods and the embodiment of revolutionary essence, but never once did he forget his humble tent-in-the-desert upbringing. Yes, there was the occasional indulgence with voluptuous Ukrainian nurses (according to WikiLeaks) and the like, by why be petty? The ailments that life in the Sahara can lead to may only be curable by buxom Eastern European care-givers.
Gaddafi bought a share in Juventus, the Italian football club from Turin, but wouldn’t you if you had a spare $21 mill? He shot down Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 but later apologized. No big deal, we all make mistakes. Even the-then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, went to see him in Tripoli in 2008 and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, hosted him lavishly in Paris in 2009. “He is the world’s longest serving veteran leader,” explained Sarkozy, “That should count for something.” As you might expect, real class and sophistication there from the Fifth Republic.
Sane or not, the West loved Gaddafi’s chosen career path. Tony Soprano was involved in waste management, Gaddafi in oil. In fact, Libya produces 1.5 million barrels of high quality oil. At $80 a barrel - the 2010 average - this amounts to $120 million a day or around $44 billion annually. Petrodollars are then used to bring in French, British, Italian and American companies to further develop the oil sector and also for infrastructure and construction. And before you know it, Gaddafi’s eccentricities are tolerated. Monitor Group, a Boston-based consulting firm, took Libya as a client in order to polish Gaddafi’s image in the US by “enlisting the advice of a…meticulously selected group of independent and objective experts.”
And the world loved every minute of this bonanza: The oil, the extravaganza, the speeches, the clothing; apart from the terrorism, they loved the whole package. It was fun and profitable. Except for one minor group of people. The Libyans. Like the Tunisians, Egyptians and the Bahrainis among others, they have witnessed enough crime scenes to last at least a lifetime. Gaddafi’s ride is over. It may exact more - a lot more - blood, but it’s over.
It’s not about us, stupid
While the Autumn of the Patriarch(s) continues throughout the Middle East generating concurrent hopes and fears, optimism and realism, Israelis have somehow found a way to muck-in on the debate. It begins with the instinctive whining, “Is this good for the Jews?” but then takes on a life of its own. The Left and the Right engage in the most untimely, irrelevant and futile of arguments regarding the peace process: does all this mean we can never come to a viable agreement or, conversely, should we seize the opportunity and push for a settlement with the Palestinians before it’s too late. With a giddy “we told you so” grin, the Right vociferously proclaims that a Palestinian state is an Iran/Egypt/Libya/Hamas/Hizbullah/Al-Qaida in the making. The current affairs in the Arab world confirm what they’ve always maintained; that there is no partner for durable peace as long as instability and uncertainty rules. The myopic idiocy of this argument is perfectly mirrored by the out-of-left-field, self-righteous mantras of the Left.
The Left, with an equally silly “we know best” grin, asserts that the only way to confront this volatile uncertainty is to quickly strike a grand deal with the Palestinians. The window of opportunity for the two-state solution is shutting fast and we will inevitably face a bi-national state, effectively eradicating both our Jewish and democratic nature. The flaws of both arguments and their respective lack of viability warrant another article. But what perplexes me right now is the timing. Raising these reflexive and repetitive arguments in this context and at this time compels me to believe that both sides of the political spectrum are solely motivated by a “say now, think later” attitude. 
It never ceases to amaze how self-centered and parochial we can be. Sure, there are mitigating circumstances that comes with living in this bad neighborhood and yes, we have vested interests in the seismic shifts surrounding us. But can’t we, just for once, shut up and watch? This is not our crisis in the traditional sense. We may very well be witnessing tectonic shifts occurring in fast motion with the potential to precipitate structural, political and behavioral transformations in the region. Then again, maybe not. We just don’t know yet and what is discernible is often misleading. One thing for sure is that age-old paradigms require critical revisiting and a rigorous second-opinion. In order to that intelligently, the government needs perspective that can only be acquired through time, patience and vigilant analyses.
Alas, however, this may prove to be too tall an order to demand of the Israeli homo-politicus, grand master of the infamous, “In my opinion...”
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.