In Libya, a campaign to confuse
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, with his claims of total popular support and theatrical displays at bombing sites, treads a fine line between rhetoric and reality.
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi decries Western airstrikes as a “new crusader battle” and calls upon “all Islamic armies” to assist in a momentous fight. On the eve of the air campaign one week ago, the regime issues a statement: If attacked, Libya would “expose all air and maritime traffic” in the Mediterranean Sea to counterattack.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But like much in Mr. Qaddafi’s Libya today – including the declared total popular support of the enigmatic “Brother Leader” himself – the rhetoric often appears disconnected from reality.
From Qaddafi’s certainty that “all my people are with me, they love me all,” to cease-fires declared and ignored, the Libyan leader might appear to be waging a campaign of confusion against his enemies. The seed of such a strategy may be evident in the Green Book, the colonel's 35-year-old guide to political philosophy, which itself embodies – perhaps purposefully – the contradictory and abstruse nature of the long-serving strongman.
In the latest example, on Friday, officials seeking to prove the scale of the damage drove foreign journalists east from Tripoli – passing two smoldering military facilities visible from the road on the way – only to stop at a rural residence where a missile of some type had landed in a front yard.
People who called themselves witnesses told different stories about the event, in which one person – or none – was injured. US-made missile parts littered the area, and there was clear evidence of an impact with shrapnel. But the site may have also been made to look more convincing with what appeared to be gunfire sprayed against some outside walls and white plaster thrown onto interior floors.
Libya's true believers
Despite the elaborate theater going on in Tripoli, there is no shortage of true believers in Qaddafi or his regime here. Even away from the official flag-waving loyalists who attend events set up for foreign eyes, they announce themselves.
Unprompted, one Libyan businessman says: “Tell the world about Muammar Qaddafi: He is our oxygen. We cannot live without him. We cannot breathe without him.”
But signs of discontent have erupted across Libya since mid-February, when protests began and eastern regions rebelled en masse against Qaddafi’s nearly 42-year rule.
There appears to be no lukewarm support for the Qaddafi: only pure devotion or hatred. The confusion and opacity may stem from the top with Qaddafi himself, and his unique style of rule.
It has made Libya a place where being targeted by more than 170 cruise missiles has been greeted in the capital’s main square with a perpetual, official party and frequent celebratory gunfire.
Qaddafi has a “borderline personality” that “often swings from intense anger to euphoria,” says Jerrold Post, a political psychologist at George Washington University, in a recent analysis in the journal Foreign Policy.
“Under his often ‘normal’ facade, he is quite insecure and sensitive to slight. His reality testing is episodically faulty,” writes Dr. Post, who founded a center for analyzing personality and political behavior during a 21-year career at the CIA.
“While most of the time Qaddafi is ‘above the border’ and in touch with reality, when under stress he can dip below it and his perceptions can be distorted and his judgment faulty,” writes Post. “And right now, he is under the most stress he has been under since taking over the leadership of Libya…. He does sincerely cling to the idea that his people all love him.”