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Don’t leaders learn? Are we baying with the hounds?


As I watch and listen the international news daily, especially the continuing spiel about the fate of Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi, a number of thoughts keep rushing through my head. Not the tripe served up daily about Gaddafi’s “reign of terror”, the “Revolution” to topple him and the “liberation” of Libya, but rather deeper, more disturbing thoughts.{{more}}

In the first place, as the scenes of the former Libyan leader’s fate are replayed again and again, the same age-old question races through my mind, repeatedly, and with more intensity each time. “Why don’t leaders LEARN?” What sense of grandeur or infallibility, immortality perhaps, infuses the minds of men who get drunk on power to the extent that they cannot recognize the demise staring them in their very faces? What ‘superhuman’ bug makes them disconnect from reality that they lose all sense of what is going on around them? Do these men not learn the lessons of history, from very ancient days down to the present?

I am here not dealing with the politics of the Libyan situation, just trying to extrapolate from it some obvious lessons which seem to bypass those for whom power becomes such the basis of everyday existence that the threat of its removal seems to leave them completely “dotish”, as we would say in common parlance.

Muammar Gaddafi was many things to different persons. Yet, whatever one thought of him, it was plainly obvious that he was no fool. He was self-centred, megalomaniac maybe, certainly eccentric, but definitely intelligent enough to survive in the brutal world of international politics with all its treachery for more than four decades. As a junior officer in the Libyan army, he was smart enough to be able to organize the bloodless overthrow, (how unlike his own!), of the 18-year-old monarchy of King Idris at the age of 27.

For forty-two years, often in the face of implacable hostility from the mightiest powers on earth, he maintained his grip on power. No comment about the means here. I am merely establishing that he was not without what is called “nous”, or intellectual ability. Such was his skill that he, the sworn enemy of the West, ended up being warmly greeted and welcomed by the likes of Tony Blair, Condoleeza Rice, Silvio Berlusconi and the Pope. Not bad at all!, I would say. The international pariah became a valued ally in the supposed “war against terrorism”, his own alleged rule of terror conveniently forgotten.

So how could a man, so obviously gifted, not fail to see when he was going over the precipice? How could he not recognize that the same treachery which welcomed him into the arms of the serpent would, someday, produce the poison of the forked tongue? How could he, trapped between the tides sweeping Tunisia to his west and Egypt to his east, fail to understand that the only way out was to ride the crest of the wave, not try to command it to roll back as the proverbial King Canute is reported to have done?

Sadly, Gaddafi’s fatal errors are not unique in human history. Indeed, he himself had just witnessed the failure of the “all-powerful” ben-Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt to roll back the tide of history and prevent their own demise. These were two well-supported dictators, Mubarak being second only to Israel on imperialism’s list of allies in the Middle East. Yet, not even the combined support of the USA, western Europe and Israel could keep him in power.

But rather than read the writing on the wall, he, too, brought out the ‘big stick’. Virtually frothing at the mouth, he issued a string of insults to his own people vowing to exterminate opposition one by one. Even when the rest of the world knew it was over, Gaddafi just could not countenance defeat and how he had contributed to it. In an end unworthy of someone who, despite his many serious excesses had made an important contribution to African liberation, he, like Saddam before him, had an inglorious fate, dying in contemptuous circumstances.

The problem for the world is that the cases of Gaddafi, Mubarak, Saddam and Milosevic might be extreme, but they are not the only ones. In all continents around the globe, time and again we witness leaders who just do not know when to leave the stage. Like some greedy supermarket owners who persist in keeping goods on the shelf long after their expiry date, too many leaders, in the Caribbean as well hang on beyond their own “use by” date. They just do not seem to “get it”, and know when to leave the stage. In the process, whatever good or positive they do gets obliterated in the sea of hate sweeping them from power.

Two more quick observations can be made. First, as opposition to such dictatorial figures increases, so does the intensity of feeling against them. This is fuelled, of course, when they resort to repression and bloodshed to keep them in power. In turn, it is not only these leaders who become contaminated for there is the danger of hatred for their actions and policies so consuming the rest of society that people resort to the very violations of the rights of opponents. All sense of civility disappears as the formerly oppressed, soaked in vengeance, can become a pack of hounds baying for blood. Whatever Gaddafi’s crimes, those who wish to liberate must set higher moral standards. They cannot condone the very same manifestations of brutality, summary execution and disrespect for the dead. What message has gone out to the young “freedom fighters”? Should Libya’s new rulers fall foul of popular anger, can they expect any better? Where are the new benchmarks of a “liberated” society?

Finally, I am profoundly disappointed that President Obama, in deep political trouble, has allowed himself to be trapped in the robes of those practices he condemned so strongly in taking the moral road to the White House. To gloat over the manner of Gaddafi’s death, irrespective of his degree of guilt, does little to enhance his image. It is to be noted that, as if the inheritor of the Bush mantle, it is Obama who also condoned the illegal execution of the terrorist Osama bin Laden and the shocking spectacle of his ignominious burial. It is Obama who has authorised the killing by drone strike of two US-born citizens wanted for terrorist crimes, Anwar al Awlaki and Atiyah abd al Rahman.

Where is this taking us? Where is the sense of moral superiority? Are we all baying with the hounds now?