Patrick Cockburn: Gaddafi cannot hold out. But who will replace him?

The rebels have shown that they are politically and militarily weak

Share
Related Topics

In the next few weeks Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is likely to lose power. The forces arrayed against him are too strong. His own political and military support is too weak. The US, Britain and France are scarcely going to permit a stalemate to develop whereby he clings on to Tripoli and parts of western Libya while the rebels hold the east of the country.

Even before the air strikes Gaddafi had not been able to mobilise more than about 1,500 men to advance on Benghazi, and many of these were not trained soldiers. The reason for their advance is that the rebels in the east were unable to throw into the fighting the 6,000 soldiers whose defection touched off the original uprising.

The first days of foreign intervention mirror the experience of the US and its allies in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, by going extremely well. Air attacks shattered a column of tanks and infantry south of Benghazi. Survivors have fled. The rout may soon resemble the rapid dissolutions of the Taliban and the Iraqi army.

In Iraq and Afghanistan most people were glad to get rid of their rulers, and most Libyans will be glad to see the back of Gaddafi. His regime may well fall more quickly than is currently expected. Pundits have been wagging their fingers in the last few days, saying Gaddafi may be mad but he is not stupid, but this is to underestimate the opéra bouffe quality of his regime.

It is the next stage in Libya – after the fall of Gaddafi – which has the potential to produce a disaster similar to Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases successful war left the US as the predominant power in the country. In Iraq this rapidly turned into an old-fashioned imperial occupation. "The occupation was the mother of all mistakes," as one Iraqi leader is fond of repeating. In Afghanistan the US always called the shots, even if Hamid Karzai headed the government.

The same problem is going to arise in Libya. There will be a lack of a credible local partner. The rebels have shown that they are politically and militarily weak. Indeed, if this had not been so, there would have been no need for a last-minute foreign intervention to save them.

The local leaders who rise to the top in these circumstances are usually those who speak the best English and get on with the US and its allies. In Baghdad and Kabul those who initially rose were those who fawned the most and who were prepared to go before Congress to express fulsome gratitude for America's actions.

There is a further complication. Libya is an oil state like Iraq, and oil wealth tends to bring out the worst in almost everybody. It leads to autocracy because whoever controls the oil revenues can pay for powerful security forces and ignore the public. Few states wholly reliant on oil are democracies.

Aspirant Libyan leaders who play their cards right over the next few months could put themselves in a position to make a lot of money. An Iraqi civil servant in Baghdad commented cynically before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that "the exiled Iraqis are an exact replica of those who currently govern us", but the present leadership was almost sated "since they have been robbing us for 30 years" while the new rulers "will be ravenous".

Already there are signs that David Cameron, Hillary Clinton and Nicolas Sarkozy are coming to believe too much of their own propaganda, particularly over Arab League support for air strikes. Diplomats normally contemptuous of the views of the Arab League suddenly treat its call for a no-fly zone as evidence that the Arab world favours intervention.

This could change very fast. Arab League leaders are mostly people whom the "Arab Awakening" is trying to displace. Military participation in action against the Libyan government is expected from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, members of the Gulf Co-operation Council that clubs together Gulf monarchies. This is the same GCC that has just sent to troops to Bahrain to help the government crush pro-democracy protests by the Shia majority.

The worst verifiable atrocity in the Arab world in the past week was not in Libya but in Yemen, where pro-government gunmen machine-gunned an unarmed demonstration last Friday, killing 52 people.

In terms of the exercise of real authority, Gaddafi is likely to be replaced not by Libyans but by the foreign powers which assist in his overthrow. Going by what happened in Afghanistan and Iraq it will not take much for their actions to be seen across the Middle East as hypocritical and self-serving, and resisted as such.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick