Jacob Heilbrunn

Col. Gaddafi's Grand Finale

President Obama is taking a pounding from various quarters for supposedly being too slow to respond to Libya's plight. To read the Wall Street Journal editorial page, he should have sent in the Marines a long time ago. Col. Gaddafi must himself be feeling a little peeved. Is this the kind of loyalty he receives in exchange for handing over his nuclear and chemical weapons programs to the Bush administration?

Now the poor chap is staging his own personal Twlight of the Gods. The bizarre interview with Christiane Amanpour, the huffing and puffing about the love he experiences from the Libyan people--all suggest that he resembles the classic megalomaniac dictator. During World War II, Harvard historian William Langer, who was working for the OSS, accurately predicted that Hitler would commit suicide rather than allow himself to be captured. Hitler figured that he would be stuck in a cage by the Russian and exhibited like a captive bear.

It's hard to see Gadaffi allowing himself to be captured, either. All signs and portents are that he wants the grand finale, the big fireworks, as he exits the global stage. Perhaps he not so secretly enjoys the massive dose of attention he's receiving. Not everyone gets to exit with such fanfare. For decades he has managed to strut about, his oil wealth allowing him to engage in the most bizarre behavior, while the West looked on haplessly. He even got the man behind the Lockerbie bombing extricated because England wanted to tap into his oil.

So John Bolton's complaints about Obama engaging in "buckpassing" by handing over the prosecution of Gadaffi to the International Criminal Court don't really add up. According to Bolton,

a new Libyan government should be responsible for dealing with Gadhafi's atrocities. Every crime he is responsible for, from the terrorist bomb that destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, to his current street massacres, has been done in the name of the Libyan people. They are the ones who should judge Gadhafi, as Iraqis did with Saddam Hussein.


Of course, this assumes two things. The first is that Gadaffi will be taken alive, which is doubtful. Summary justice is more likely. The second is that there will be a viable Libyan government. In Iraq, after all, American boots on the ground propped up a shaky Iraqi regime. That's not  likely to be the case in Libya.

The real problem with sending Gadaffi to the ICC is that he could point to the hypocrisy of western regimes, which have only turned on him now that his country is in revolt. Any trial might disclose embarrassing revelations about the eagerness of Europe and America to treat with him. The butcher of Lockerbie, one of the most odious rulers of the past century, flaunted his power with impunity. A trial might reveal more about America and Europe than the Libyan despot.