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Gadhafi: Shrewd, Eccentric, or Insane?

Image taken from Libyan state television broadcast shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi addressing supporters and foreign media in Tripoli, March 2, 2011
Image taken from Libyan state television broadcast shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi addressing supporters and foreign media in Tripoli, March 2, 2011

As conflict continues in Libya, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has blamed the turmoil on Al- Qaida, on foreign interference, even on drug use.  He has also denied that there is any turmoil in his country. The Libyan leader’s behavior is not unlike that of other powerful leaders, but in this case it could have tragic results for ordinary Libyans.

In his recent speeches, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said:

"I dare you to find that peaceful protesters were killed. In America, France, and everywhere, if people attacked military stores and tried to steal weapons, they will shoot them...."

"They give them pills at night, they put hallucinatory pills in their drinks, their milk, their coffee, their Nescafe...."

"We are ready to hand out weapons to a million, or two million or three million, and another Vietnam will begin. It doesn't matter to us. We no longer care about anything...."

But does the Libyan leader really believe these statements? Is he delusional or are they a shrewd attempt to control his country?

Listen to the interview with Daniel Chirot on Gadhafi's mentality:

Daniel Chirot
Daniel Chirot

Daniel Chirot, a professor of International Studies at the University of Washington, is the author of Modern Tyrants: The Power and Prevalence of Evil in Our Age. Chirot says Colonel Gadhafi is acting much the way that powerful people have acted throughout history.

“People who have that much power for a long time, when they fail, they often blame everything on their people, and say ‘well, my people failed me and so they don’t deserve to live.’ That was Hitler’s attitude,” he noted.

Shrewd or out of touch?

Ali Ahmida, a Libyan-American professor of political science at the University of New England, says Colonel Gadhafi has been very shrewd in manipulating symbols and cultivating through his speeches, clothes and style of life a way to ensure he remains popular in the country. 

But Ahmidah says lately, it appears the Libyan leader has lost touch with reality.

"I really am concerned about [Gadhafi’s] ability to grasp what has happened in Libya and what has happened in the region so far in the last couple of months.  And the speeches he has given so far indicate that he is in denial almost delusional when it comes to understanding how grave the situation is and the fact that a large number of Libyans really are demanding change of his regime,” said Ahmida.

David Mack, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates who served in Libya when Colonel Gadhafi came to power in 1969, says those around Gadhafi need to act if they want to avoid more bloodshed.

“I hope frankly, that people who are close to Gadhafi will take some actions to rid themselves of his leadership because I don’t think it’s at all good for their long term interests,” he said.

Delusional

Ali Ahmida says Colonel Gadhafi’s mindset and his speeches have almost painted him into a corner and he cannot leave like Tunisian president Ben Ali or Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did recently.

“Even the last three of four speeches he has given recently indicates that he still thinks that he is the leader, he is popular, and he has a lot of wide support in Libya,” said the professor.

David Mack agrees, saying that Gadhafi is not like presidents Ben Ali, Mubarak or even like former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  Mack says Gadhafi will have to be removed from power – he will not go voluntarily.

“Even with Saddam Hussein we could envisage places where Saddam Hussein could go into safe refuge,” Mack said.  “I’m not sure that that’s true with Gadhafi. I really don’t see a possibility of him finding safety outside of Libya, so I don’t think he’s going to be leaving.”

Libyan gunmen from the forces against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fire in the air during a mass funeral for rebel gunmen killed in fighting in Ajdabiya, eastern Libya, March 3, 2011
Libyan gunmen from the forces against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi fire in the air during a mass funeral for rebel gunmen killed in fighting in Ajdabiya, eastern Libya, March 3, 2011

Daniel Chirot says he does not think Gadhafi will accept living in exile.  He says his greatest fear is that the Libyan leader means what he says and will fight to “the last bullet.”

“I also believe - and it’s quite clear from his speeches and his actions – that he wants to have revenge on the Libyan people for overthrowing him,” said Chirot.

“So he’ll kill as many as he can and hang on as long as he can. And then at the last minute whether he manages to hop on to an airplane and fly somewhere else or gets killed, I couldn’t say. But he is certainly willing to kill as many people as he possibly can,” he added.

As of this report, rebels hold the eastern part of Libya while those loyal to Gadhafi hold the area around Tripoli in the western region.  Fighting continues and the world powers are debating what to do next.  But a peaceful end to Moammar Gadhafi’s nearly 42-year rule is something few seem ready to predict.

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