Shimon Soferr: Libya, here we come!

Shimon Soferr

Dictionaries and encyclopedias describe Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi –– we, for some reason, call him “Gadhafi” –– as the Libyan revolutionary leader, known for his devotion to Islam and his support for pan-Arabic and revolutionary causes.

In 1969, Gadhafi led a coup against King Idris I and proclaimed Libya an Arab republic. Under Gadhafi, Libya supported Palestinian guerrillas against Israel and aided other terrorist groups around the world.

In Libya, Gadhafi launched a cultural and social revolution that blended religious fundamentalism with Arab nationalism. In 1979, he gave up all formal political posts but remained Libya’s unquestioned leader. He also nationalized Libya’s oil reserves as a major part of his quest for Arab nationalism.

Ever since then, and for the past 42 years, this unquestioned leader of Libya has been a sore in the thigh of almost every American president and an irritant to almost every Arab leader, except Arab leaders like Abu Nidal or Yasser Arafat. Other rebels around the world also enjoyed his financial and military support whenever and wherever they used terrorism to advance their causes.

On the one hand, this leader of terrorism saw himself as the unquestioned leader of Islam, on the other hand, viewed himself as one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. He established, in April of 1989, the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. He started a basic fund for it of $10 million, which a Swiss bank was willing to accept and oversee.

The first candidate for the Gadhafi award of $250,000 was Nelson Mandela, the South African leader. Mr. Mandela may have politely rejected the prize, just as Teddy Taylor, a conservative member of the British Parliament, rejected a $500,000 check from Gadhafi as compensation for the killing of a British police officer by a Libyan agent. Or he may have kindly accepted it, just as Arafat had graciously accepted the Nobel Peace Prize bestowed on him.

In April of 1986, America launched an air raid on Libya, an attack that was called by some critics “misguided.” Military experts called it a “surgical bombing” that was aimed at Gadhafi’s surroundings but did not target him.

We were, by then, supposed to have stopped all political assassinations, so we launched an air raid instead. An air raid is an act of war, and in war, there are casualties, and casualties are not politically targeted assassinations. Our politicians hoped that Gadhafi would be “accidentally” killed by the blast, but his adopted 18-month-old daughter was killed instead.

Our current air raids in Libya do not, of course, constitute an act of war. We are launching an act to free the Libyans from their awful leader since they cannot do it by themselves, and because, as Mr. Obama said before and during his sojourn in Chile and Brazil, “Gadhafi must go.” And, while we are not doing it alone, as we wait for all the nations involved to decide who is in and who is out in this international quest for peace, American planes are dropping the bombs, and American planes are falling there, too.

Gadhafi will go, dead or alive, sooner or later, but he promises a long and difficult war until then. We should listen to him, because all wars in the Middle East and in the Arab world are long and difficult and costly. In Libya, it will cost us even more because they have a lot of oil and that oil saved them in spite of all the world’s “sanctions,” “embargoes” and political isolations.

We should consider the oil factor very seriously even though we’re not interfering in this civil war to save the oil. We are doing this to save the Libyans, for humanitarian reasons alone. The fact that oil alone (well, almost) propels all humans and humanity itself, and the fact that there is a lot of it in Libya is only a satellite to or a byproduct of the main cause of defeating another Arab tyrant. If we can save the oil as we save the Libyans, then no one can tell the outcome of any war, a limited one or otherwise.

The ghost of Bush the father and of Bush the son was Sadam Hussein of Iraq, and the son finished what his father had begun. Gadhafi was one of the greatest antagonists of the Reagan administration, and Reagan, so it seems, left him to Obama.

What Bush the son discovered about Iraq is that we, the people, had to stay there indefinitely, even long after he became a former president, to make sure that Iraq is and remains a better place without Sadam Hussein. Mr. Obama is now discovering the same thing about Afghanistan. We must remain there for a long time to make sure that Afghanistan is a better place without Osama.

There is a strong likelihood that Americans will have to rule Libya for a long time after Obama, at least until we find out who is running who in that vast country of sand and oil to make sure that Libya is a better place without Gadhafi. We will make sure that the humanitarian rights of the Libyans are secured. The Libyans will make sure that their oil keeps humanity going, at reasonable prices, to be sure.

Shimon Soferr lives in Beverly and works for the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department, running the Freedom From Violence Program. E-mail him at