One more dictator teeters on the edge of oblivion. Moammar Gadhafi has always been a strange, unsettling, and lifelong part of my worldview. He took power in Libya in 1969 and later invented a name for his country that would be the odd delight of Model United Nations-geeks for years thereafter: the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. He was known for keeping a bevy of female bodyguards, for sleeping in a tent, even when he traveled on diplomatic business, and for his uncanny ability to outlast his enemies. He was also widely considered to be insane.
For most of my life, Libya provided a general utility villain for action-adventure flicks. I can still hear Doc Brown warning against the threat of nuclear terrorists in Back to the Future ("Who do you think? The Libyans!"). When I was stationed in Rota, Spain back in the 80s, I imagined the ease at which that wily evil dude could target us from across the Mediterranean. And, of course, I remember watching the televised violence of a U.S. airstrike on Tripoli when I was in high school. I was one of those Model UN-geeks, and we were participating in a General Assembly meeting when someone rolled in the TV. We stared awestruck as the bombs fell. There was a moment of silent attention and then a burst of enthusiasm as each of us began banging out resolutions. Libya's dictator struck me as just a little goofy.
Yet Gadhafi shed no small amount of blood. His assassins spread fear around the world, blowing up a disco to kill U.S. soldiers and planting a bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people over (and at) Lockerbie, Scotland. Yet when he admitted his culpability to that latter mass murder, Gadhafi launched a process that began to transform him into some sort of elder statesperson. His willingness to help stem the flow of immigrants from Africa to Europe and his alleged assistance in the fight against Al-Qaeda clearly contributed to that cause. Even so, the people of Libya have had enough.
News reports now depict Gadhafi as a tattered shell of his former self, hiding somewhere in Tripoli as close aids and trusted henchmen slink out of sight. Rebels driving battered pickup trucks (aided by some NATO bombing for good measure) have him surrounded. No one knows what will happen next, but it's clear that the Arab Spring is becoming a year of revolution whose latest victim is one fellow who stuck around far too long.