October 21st, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Gadhafi's failed dreams

Editor's Note: Ray Takeyh is Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This post is part of an Expert Roundup, reprinted with permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Ray TakeyhCFR.org

The news of Moammar Gadhafi's death will generate its own share of headlines and obituaries. However, the stark aspect of his four-decades of despotic rule is how little impact he will have on the future of Libya. Gadhafi was a product of post-colonial nationalism, and the Arab military class' quest to reclaim the Middle East from complacent and corrupt monarchical order.

He was a man of expansive ambition, seeing himself as the heir to Egypt's Gamal Abdul Nasser. Along these lines, he sought to articulate his own ideological vision, the Third Universal Theory, which was an incongruous amalgamation of Arab nationalism, Islamism and socialism. The ideology never took root, and Gadhafi never managed to replace the charismatic Nasser as the Arab world's foremost ruler.

Libya was too distant from the heart of Arab politics and Gadhafi too eccentric and volatile to be invested with a leadership role in a region that was looking to adjust itself in the global community, as opposed to rebel against its norms. With ample oil wealth at his disposal, Gadhafi began his assault on the international system, allying himself with opposition forces, secessionist movements and terrorist organizations without an obvious political agenda who shared his animus toward the West. And terrorism proved his undoing. Gadhafi ushered in the twenty-first century by suing for peace. Decades of sanctions and ostracism had weakened his grip on power so much that he forswore terrorism as an instrument of his statecraft and cleansed himself of his weapons of mass destruction. In the past decade, he often retreated within himself, producing meandering philosophical tracts while his government sought to rationalize his irrational order.

Once the Arab Spring descended on his penal colony, the world took notice of his brutality and his preference for violence as chief arbiter of politics. The scope of Gadhafi's isolation became obvious when the entire international community united behind his ouster.

In the end, Libya was always too small and its population too passive for Gadhafi. At first Libyans were indifferent to his rule. Later, as the costs of his adventurism mounted, they became hostile to their leader and rejected his revolution. Freed of his burdensome shadow, Libyans have a chance to be at peace with each other, and at ease with their region.

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Topics: Libya

soundoff (One Response)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    He turned his back on his peers after he failed to materialise his dream in the Arab World. He devoted himself more to Africa and found gratification and recognition for what he did. Many there still want to keep good memories of him.

    October 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Reply

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