Dazed and confused, the old monster made a surprise appearance before Western journalists, to try and convince them that he was still relevant and had the support of large numbers of people. Though he had killed untold thousands, it was possible to feel, as he sweated and gibbered under the kleig lights, some basic sympathy for Tony Blair.

Colonel Gaddafi also gave an interview, and was mad as f-ck as well. Indicating that he was going to hold on, and try to fight a counter-attack. He looked like an old Vegas crooner, popping pills to get through a matinee session.

That’s Gaddafi again. You can take it as read that a very tiresome joke could be extended indefinitely, showing how these two morally and politically bankrupt hangovers both needed each other more than anyone in the world needed them. Reportedly Blair called G’af on Sunday to tell him it was time to go.

I wonder if that moment of madness — Blair assuming that the West in general and he in particular had any leading role to play — provoked a moment of sanity in the old dog: ‘Time to go Tony?! Gee thanks for that sage advice?! What gave you that idea?! Was it that people were now firing my own tanks at my window?!’

By now, as the revolution in Libya overtakes all the Arabian uprisings so far in its importance and power, it has presented both right and left in the West with a dual challenge — the politics of military support and intervention.

As a genuine political question, the problem is more pressing for the left, because by and large we were correct about the criminality and folly of the Iraq War, and of the drawn-out disaster that Afghanistan has become.

Based on the most obvious and transparent lies — exposed as such at the time, and now revealed as coming from a single source “curveball” — Iraq was an invasion that did not reply or complement any originating uprising in the country itself, any act that would signal a mass desire to risk death in pursuit of liberation.

Absent this, Iraq became a grim occupation, now succumbing to the divisions inevitable from imposed puppet governments and regimes — barely reported in the press this week were the dozen protests in Iraqi cities, heavily repressed leaving thirty dead, and more than three hundred people detained — including journalists reporting the events — in Guantanamo style-hoods.

Afghanistan has become a war against the people, with the systematic destruction of crops and livelihoods (farmers are given a compensation receipt when their crops are burnt to the ground, one often not honoured), as the US props up a corrupt family deep into heroin smuggling as the rulers of the Kabul hinterland. Vietnam redux pure and simple. We were right to oppose both wars, and the courage of Arab people making their own history when it is not taken from them, only vindicates that stance further.

But that stand against the hypocrisies, fantasies and ruthlessness of neoconservatism and military humanitarianism, doesn’t give you a guide to the situations like Libya where forms of external military support may be wanted, and may be crucial to success or failure.

After all, even at this stage, it would not be impossible for Gaddafi to stage a comeback. Though most reports say how much territory he’s lost control of, well they would say that wouldn’t they — the reports are coming from that territory. Perhaps it’s unlikely, but he may well be able to command enough firepower, as supplied by eager Western governments, to break the back of the struggle, and scatter people back to their homes.

That suggests that the imposition of a “no-fly zone” — and not much more — should be supported. I suppose a rigorous and total anti-imperialist policy would say that it is never right to support European meddling in another country’s affairs. But that position becomes increasingly hard to front in an era of global media — which would turn a rout by Gaddafi into a massacre before our eyes.

For the right, for the European establishment, for Obama’s imperial-lite policy, the Libyan revolution represents something they need to control and fast. Not the events, but the meaning of it. The more that these events takes on a genuinely revolutionary character, the more such people are desperate to cauterise it — which is why they never talk of supporting a people fighting for their own freedom, but “intervening”, as if they were a teacher holding apart two fighting toddlers. Gaddafi must then be disowned as fast as he was taken up in the last decade.

Finally, the dominance of international instruments controlled by the Atlantic elite must be reasserted in the face of the people’s will — Gaddafi thus becomes potentially guilty not of crimes against Libyans, but of crimes against an abstract humanity, to be judged in an international criminal court whose jurisdiction the US does not recognise.

That’s a bizarre idea — ultimately it suggests the Libyan people have no say in how they depose their own tyrants, or the meaning of their own oppression. They may well want to let Gaddafi fly off to a pointless exile somewhere, if it will stop the bloodshed. With the Western ‘human rights’ routine underway, Gaddafi is given a powerful incentive to fight on.

More bizarre still has been the attempt to shift the blame, over who supported Gaddafi for all those years. The answer of course is not the stray groups who were bunged a few petrodollars by the Colonel but anyone who made those donations possible by buying Libyan oil — which is everyone, for four decades — and everyone who sold him the weapons he is now using against his people. Blair is the exemplary figure whose reputation has had the last nail hammered in by the uprising — he must be sweating razor blades about what will be revealed about his flattery and wheedling of Gaddafi to get him back in the fold.

Desperate to obscure mainstream support for Gaddafi, the right appear to be on the drugs that the Colonel says al-Qaeda is giving to Libyan kids. The neatest play was this: Gaddafi’s anti-colonialist rhetoric had some themes in common with some of the things said about colonialism by Edward Said in his book Orientalism. Western leftists like Edward Said. Therefore the left supported Gaddafi. Furthermore to oppose the Iraq war was to say that Arabs could not handle democracy and that it was a Western imposition, like what Edward Said said.

Greg Sheridan had a go at this last week, later backed up by his ex-Communist mini-me, David Burchell. In the UK, conservative columnists such as Janet Daley were applying it to.

The accounts were pretty convoluted because the idea was so mad that even its authors couldn’t follow it. To oppose the Iraq invasion was simply to oppose wanton slaughter based on lies, and an arrogant assumption that you could presume to kill people in their own best interests. To suggest that parachuting Ahmed Chalabi, billions in cash, fund political parties based around clannish elites, and buy off private armies with huge bribes was not saying that Arabs could not govern themselves justly. It was to say the process was a parody of that.

What’s made things more complicated for the right is that another faction of it has decided that the only response to the Arab uprising is to revert to the ‘Israel — region’s only democracy’ argument, covertly or overtly. This requires some arabesques too.

Thus Nick Cohen, in the UK Observer bangs on about how everyone, especially the left, is seeing the region through the prism of Israel/Palestine — when in fact no-one is, except Nick Cohen. Melanie Phillips has resorted to outright anti-Muslim chauvinism, which is very much in the “Arabs can’t rule themselves” vein, and in the Evening Standard tonight exuberant imperialist Niall Ferguson’s op-ed is headed “Why democracy will not catch on in the Arab world”.

Thus Libya’s effect continues well beyond the Mediterranean waves, further shattering the neocon coalition that formed around the Iraq invasion. Where will it all end? In Iraq I suspect, where a mass campaign against the sclerotic pseudo-government will bring this era full circle.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey