This AP report on what it’s like to be reporting from Tripoli right now is a fascinating read. None of it is surprising to anyone who’s been following what’s going on there, but it does provide a good illustration of how Gaddafi has been able to portray what’s happening there as a civil war against an armed insurrection. In a bizarre sense, one could refer to what’s happening there as a civil war, but it’s more accurately a war of optical illusion. What Gaddafi is trying to do is to convince these journalists (and by extension, the rest of the world) that he’s still vastly popular. He’s been shelling cities, killing thousands of civilians in their homes, then busing journalists on these “magical mystery tours” to witness bizarrely staged “celebrations”. The fact that Libyans are desperately trying to figure out ways to defend themselves from this madness doesn’t really make it a civil war.
None of this is to say whether or not our intervention there is wise. That’s an issue I’ve weighed in on and I still agree with the decision to intervene. But there are good arguments against, and unlike Iraq – where it was overwhelmingly obvious intervention was a disaster – we’ll be debating the wisdom of this move for years to come.
But the Gaddafi regime, and their reaction to the uprising, has been a terrifying display of homicidal pathology that I’m not sure I know a real precedent for. Gaddafi is like a cross between Idi Amin and Willy Wonka, living in a fictional world that he desperately wants the rest of the world to see; and he can still pay enough willing subjects (many of whom don’t appear to be Libyan) to carry out his plan.