Jesse B. Awalt/U.S. Navy

World News


Smoking out Gaddafi

For nearly six months, the ailing tyrant had lost whatever remained of his sangfroid and insisted on an outright cleansing of the rebels, which he publically called rats. But if there was any truth to the old saying that goes: he who swims against the stream – knows the strength of it; Muammar Gaddafi seemed surely not to have understood. For all his talk of heroism, his masses of support, the love of his people and the thousands of fighters at his ready, the last vestiges of his central authority melted away like a snowman in the desert last night in Tripoli. This is despite unsubstantiated reports about the capture of two of his sons.

But even as the die-hard rebels were on the brink, the collapse of 42 years of Gaddafi’ism cannot be blessed with a more climaxing end than the image of the tyrant being tunneled out from one of his vast labyrinth of mysterious underground bunkers and tunnels, some which are believed to stretch into kilometers.

Like every despot in the region, the paranoia of air and electronic surveillance has led to the spending of millions on underground networks to link palaces, bunkers, military strongholds and safe houses to conceal the leader and his near and dear. The value of these vast complexes is never more strategic than when the leader fights his last battle, the battle to survive.

As the rebels streamed into the capital, Tripoli, much of which has already fallen, these underground sites represent a new kind of battlefield which must be quickly and ferociously overcome. Colonel Gaddafi is thought to have built so many tunnels that just about anything could be underground – loyalists, heavy weapons, money and surely the crumbling tyrant himself.

For the rebel columns taking over the heart of Tripoli, no doubt in coordination with their NATO allies, everything from mysterious air vents, obscure stairwells and ground openings are prime suspect. Although the leaders Al-Azizia compound is riddled with underground bunkers – owing to the West German companies which built them in the 1970’s and whose blue prints are today nicely sitting in the files of Western intelligence agencies, there are still many complexes which are yet to be uncovered and with them the keys to decades of concealment.

As the clock ticks away, Gaddafi must surely be in panic mode. But the likeliness of him surrendering to the rebels seems an unrealistic one. His personality, motivation and attitude is a very odd one – even at the mouth of death. He is a man solely motivated by the specter of power, the quest for glory and the prerequisites of high office. Giving up the heroic life is inconceivable to him, not least when his entire self is bound up with being a revered leader.

The history of a tyrant’s last stand is not one Gaddafi will take comfort in. Ceausescu fled by helicopter from palace to palace, only to be show-trialed by his own military and executed with his hands tied behind his back. Saddam placed two hands out of a spider hole after he was discovered and later hanged to death by his fellow countryman in gallows he himself had constructed. Noriega was rendered to seeking refuge in the Holy See’s embassy in Panama- only to be humiliatingly brought to trial and subsequently sentenced to long incarceration in the US for drug trafficking. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s Saleh joined him following third degree burns he suffered in an assassination attempt, and last but not least Mubarak, Gaddafi’s old chum, is being wheeled into trial these days.

Static and inside one of his dark tunnels, the tyrant is unlikely to be at ease. If he insists on fighting a dog’s death from inside it, it’s going to be a horrible one indeed. The rebels are screaming about smoking him out of his hideout or rendering it into a pile of smoking rubble. His credibility right now is as plausible as his died hair and pantomime military uniforms. It is difficult to predict what a cornered Gaddafi might do. The best leader is surely the one who recognizes that the existence of his abilities must inevitably yield to the passage of time and a sense of finitude. You can count Gaddafi out of that one.