The Empire Strikes Out

SUBHEAD: Sooner than you might think the tweets and the video feeds will cease and the screen will go dark. By Dmitry Orlov 8 March 2011 in ClubOrlov - ( Image above: Internet down again in Libya. From (
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya... now, children, one of these things is not like the others. That's right, Libya wasn't, and to a considerable extent still isn't, run by a dictator who happens to be a Western stooge. Say what you want about him, Muammar Gaddafi is a phenomenon. Compared to his inimitable, flamboyant persona, Tunisia's unimpressive Zia El Abidine ben Ali and Egypt's viciously thick Hosni Mubarak are ciphers. Yes they are all dictators, but look at the region and ask yourself: Who isn't? Even the Roman Senate used to elect a dictator in times trouble; when isn't it a time of trouble in this region?
Gaddafi eschews the notions of the nation state, of Arab nationalism, and of electoral democracy. He forbids political parties. He is tribal; he espouses Islamic socialism, and his idea of democracy is one where tribal elders bring requests and grievances to him, and he gets to dispense largesse and pass judgment. He fancies himself a sort of king: a “king of kings.” He likes all kinds of African tribes, not just Arab ones; he is all about African unity in the face of Western oppression. He probably wouldn't mind ruling them all. He is, unarguably, green.
While Western leaders were surprised by the Tunisian revolt, and weren't at all sure about the Egyptian one (only eventually settling on the idea that Mubarak must go), they absolutely knew from the outset that leaving Gaddafi in power would take the political and economic disaster that this revolutionary trend already portends and raise it to the Nth power. Gaddafi had to go, and so vague noises were made about automatic support for any sort of disrespect the tribes that are not completely aligned with him could muster. They seem to have miscalculated rather badly, and now we are witnessing a series of embarrassing vignettes such as the instantaneous leaking of Obama's “super-secret” request to the Saudis to help Libyan rebels, or the recent British diplomatic “mission” which invaded with weapons and explosives and was apprehended by the rebels, who are no doubt starting to feel that this particular revolutionary exercise is not going too well for them. It was a mistake to treat Libya as a country, where protesters have rights. Libya is special. You have to go very far back in history to find something similar. Perhaps Carthage, which came quite close to sacking Rome and redirecting the flow of world history, is something of a North African analogy.
Gaddafi's niche in the pantheon of national leaders who dared oppose the US—where he stands alongside Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il and Mahmud Ahmadinejad—is enough to warrant his removal and conversion of Libya into a NATO-bombed defunct narco-state like Kosovo or Afghanistan, but on top of that his brand of political philosophy, which he termed jamāhīriyyah (translated as “state of the masses”) might actually stand a chance in many collapsing nation states beyond Libya. The revolutions now spreading around the world are essentially bread riots: the disastrous harvests due to heat waves and floods around the world, caused by the accelerating onset of global warming, have caused food prices to spike. It is rather unusual for democracy (of the legalistic Western kind) to succeed where stomachs are empty. One normally expects a beer putsch or two, a Kristallnacht and perhaps a Reichstag on fire. Gaddafi's socialist islamic tribalism may succeed as more and more nation states turn into failed states, as national borders dissolve, and inter-ethnic conflicts and makeshift allegiances erase all the nice straight lines so carefully drawn on maps by colonizing Westerners. For all these reasons, Gaddafi must be deposed. The question is, can the West still rise to the occasion, or is it too internally conflicted, senile and broke? A little bit of time will tell.
I don't think we are talking about an extended period of time. Just this slight Libyan kerfuffle has pushed oil prices over the threshold which the International Energy Agency has recently defined as the threshold beyond which Western economies crumble, which is when oil expenditure consumes over 5% of GDP. [The original idea, by the way, belongs to François Cellier, who used it to explain the financial crisis of 2008. The wheels of international agencies grind slowly.] This crumbling process will redirect all remaining energies (physical as well as mental) inward, to prevent or contain internal revolt, with precious little to spare for Libya or any other foreign adventure. For a little while yet we will get to watch the world burn on a variety of fashionably small electronic devices. But sooner than you might think the tweets and the video feeds will cease and the screen will go dark, as it already has in Libya. After that you'd have to go there yourself to find out what's happening. Yes, unimaginable horrors are afoot, and you can't do a damned thing about them. You might do better for yourself and your family by taking advice from Voltaire's Candide, and just cultivate your own garden. I am not a religious man, but I do sometimes like quoting the gospel (or in this case, two gospels—Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60):
“...let the dead bury their own dead.”

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