Well, we have had our euphoria over the revolts in the Arab world. Whether anything has changed much as a result of them is a moot point. The unlovely Egyptian and other regimes, whose departure was shaking the world a week ago, at present still seem in place. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Moslem countries continue to wipe out the last of their Christians.
And, as far as Libya is concerned, it may be that the gone-to-seed flower children of the U.S. and Britain (to say nothing of the unfortunate people of Libya itself) may be about to have their collective nose rubbed in the truth of a very old saw: God is on the side of the big battalions.
Personally, I don’t like it this way. Apart from anything else, I knew people who perished at Lockerbie.
The day Gaddafi makes his long overdue career-move to Hell I intend to get out the champagne. But what seems never to have occurred to many of those caught up in the grand dramatic narrative of the last few days is that people like Gaddafi very seldom tend to be overthrown from within. If he is to be overthrown, the rebel forces will need not words of encouragement, or even a few advisors, but substantial modern weaponry. The present $64 billion question is whether Obama or Cameron has either the political will or the physical military resources to provide it (no one seriously believes the other powers will take real action — at least not on our side). The Libyans might do it on their own, but I’m not sure that that’s a good way to bet.
Countless lessons of history confirm this. If one names Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot as the greatest mass-murderers of the 20th century, two were pulled down by foreign invasion, and two died in office. (Stalin may have had treatment withheld when he suffered a stroke, but up till then there was no challenge to his power.) None were overthrown by their own people.
Even such specimens as Castro, Mugabe, and the North Korean leadership, not only revolting criminals but also physically decrepit, seem destined to die in office. Of all the monsters who occupied the position of First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, only the least ruthless and the only two who could be described as having even the most qualified humane (or human) aspects about them, actually lost power by anything short of death.
As for the leaders against whom popular internal revolts did succeed, they include Charles II of England, Louis XVI of France, Louis Philippe of France, Louis Napoleon, Czar Nicholas II, and that horse-faced man in East Germany whose name no one remembers. Several were remarkably similar characters. In each case they tried to be nice guys and tried to avoid shedding blood. If they moved to display force, they left it too late.
No one, on the other hands, revolted successfully against Henry VIII, Cromwell, or Napoleon. Even the demented Idi Amin had to be brought down from outside, and was not succeeded by anyone outstandingly better. Ancient Rome had one serious slave revolt, led by Spartacus, an able leader with a vast pool of manpower to draw upon. Rome solved it by mass-crucifixions.
Even in the Nazi extermination camps, where the victims knew they were going to die anyway and had nothing to lose by revolting, uprisings were few and unsuccessful. Hardly any of the millions involved succeeded in saving their own lives or damaging the enemy. It is said that before the Second World War Neville Chamberlain waited in hope that the German people would overthrow Hitler when it became obvious that he was leading the country into war and Europe into ruin. If so, he waited in vain. It has been an obvious fact since ancient times, and in every culture, that dictators do not get to be dictators unless they are well-guarded, know how to make themselves popular, and know how to watch their backs. The history of China, Japan, and practically every country in the world teaches similar lessons.
Yet we have become so used to the fiction of the happy ending that, I think, most of us, at least subconsciously, expected over the last few days that the overthrow of the obviously unbalanced and detested Gaddafi would only be a matter of time. That may still, by the Grace of Providence, come to pass. But events of the last few days have shown how much our political leaders — and the people who elected them — have been living in a Fools’ Paradise if they think such an outcome is somehow inevitable or automatic. Again I must make the obvious point that the leaders of the U.S. and Britain have been criminally negligent in both allowing their armed forces to run down and simultaneously over-committing them.