Africa

The Dubious Anarchist

Libya's libertarian rhetoric

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Since 9/11, Muammar al-Qaddafi has played a schizoid role in American foreign policy. On one hand, the Libyan dictator appears regularly on lists of terrorist statesmen the administration may intend to depose. On the other, he has repeatedly expressed interest in assisting the U.S. in the war on terror, a stance that fits his recent efforts at a rapprochement with Washington.

Speaking to Newsweek last year, Qaddafi claimed he was exchanging intelligence with the United States and Britain, so that Libyan terrorists operating in those countries could be "wiped out." Meanwhile, his country is still officially branded a rogue state but was excluded from President Bush's Axis of Evil.

That isn't the only contradiction in modern Libya. Since taking power in 1969, Qaddafi has been a rare beast: an autocrat who pretends to be an anarchist. On at least three occasions, the colonel has made a big show of abolishing the Libyan state. His most recent display began in March 2000, when he eliminated 12 ministries and declared that the remaining five would soon follow. "You have no government to complain against," Qaddafi declared to the masses. "Now everything is in your hands and in the future you can complain to yourselves."

Alas: Some institution is responsible for all the censorship and extrajudicial executions that Amnesty International keeps complaining about, and it sure looks like a state. Still, let's be constructive in our criticisms: In eliminating those 12 ministries, Qaddafi did more in one day than the Gingrich Congress accomplished in two years. Of course, he's also a military dictator. You can't have everything.

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