ANALYSIS | Gadhafi's fall has no whiff of Arab Spring

There will, no doubt, be attempts to portray the downfall of Moammar Gadhafi as an example of what happens when a nation decides to rise up against tyranny, but the Libyan despot's death demonstrates nothing more than the ability of Western militaries to cut down whomever they choose.

Libyan despot's death had more to do with NATO muscle than popular uprising

NATO and Libya

11 years ago
Duration 2:45
Libyan rebels might not have succeeded without Western help, Neil Macdonald reports

The simple, tempting reaction to news of Moammar Gadhafi's death and the ignominious exhibition of his corpse is that he was a creep, and the world is better off without him.

What makes it all the richer is the ridiculous cult of personality he built around himself, like so many other Arab dictators of his generation.

His "green book" of wild political musings that was forced down Libyans' throats, his King Canute-like efforts to contain the expansion of the Sahara Desert, his Praetorian guard of uniformed Amazons, the bad plastic surgery and hair transplants, his laughable insistence that he was not a leader but a beloved first among equals – all a narcissistic membrane easily pierced by missiles.

Certainly, Gadhafi could be entertaining. His rambling speeches at the UN, and his insistence that he be able to set up his Bedouin tent in New York City were great comic relief.

I covered a meeting of the Arab League in Jordan back in the 1990s when he announced the whole exercise was pointless because none of the other leaders in attendance actually had any backbone, then decamped to the desert, where he set up his tent and flamboyantly consorted with his fellow Bedouins for the rest of the day.

But his crazy viciousness trumped all that. This was a man whose agents downed a civilian jetliner, bombed a discotheque in Berlin and gave aid and succor to some of the most violent extremists on earth. He ran a dark police state, crushed internal dissent, persecuted the Berber people, used his oil money to prop up equally vicious African leaders and collected weapons of mass destruction.

In the end, he sent foreign mercenaries against his own people, reportedly supplied with Viagra, the better to rape when they weren't marauding and killing.

Arab Spring a failure so far

All in all, as noted above, a fine candidate for early departure from this life.

But that's as far as it goes. Other than that, Gadhafi's death demonstrates nothing more than the ability of Western militaries to cut down whomever they choose.

There will, no doubt, be attempts to portray his downfall and death as an example of what happens when a nation decides to rise up against tyranny and pursue its own destiny.

Libyan refugees outside their embassy in Tunisia celebrate after hearing that Moammar Gadhafi was killed. Tunisia is the only nation so far where the Arab Spring has truly taken hold in the form of meaningful reforms, writes Neil Macdonald. ((Zohra Bensemra /Reuters))

Americans, in particular, love that narrative, which is why the phrase "Arab Spring" is still so popular in the mainstream media here.

The fact is, the Arab Spring, if it even existed, has been a sputtering failure so far. It certainly didn't even threaten Gadhafi. He was hunted down by NATO military power, plain and simple.

Had it not been for NATO warplanes, Gadhafi would still be in command, violently persecuting his own people.

In fact, Gadhafi's army was rolling into the eastern city of Benghazi last March, intent on reducing the city to cinders, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent jets to attack the Libyan column.

I arrived in Benghazi shortly thereafter and saw the burned-out Libyan tanks and armour, stretching for kilometres just outside the city. It was pretty obvious Benghazi had just been saved from a slaughter.

And even with the thousands of bombing sorties and help from Western special forces and spies on the ground, it still took nearly a year to defeat Gadhafi's loyalists.

Certainly, the bumbling, amateurish Libyan rebel fighters I witnessed in action last spring would have been wiped off the face of the desert without that support. A lot of them didn't know one end of a rocket launcher from the other and regularly fled in retreat at the first sign of an attack.

Other Mideast despots' ruthless rule continues

And in fact, insurgents elsewhere in the Arab world, naked and unsupported and exposed, have simply died — gloriously, perhaps, but futilely, at least so far.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies have massacred thousands to suppress the uprising in that country and are doubtless prepared to kill many thousands more. The world has done practically nothing to intervene.

King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, with material help and encouragement from Saudi Arabia, has violently shredded the ambitions of Bahrain's aggrieved Shia population, many of whom are now dead or in prison.

In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who uses snipers against his own people, persists.

There was some early dissent in Jordan, but that was dealt with quickly and efficiently. And the Palestinians are hardly in a position to take their destiny into their own hands. Saddam Hussein, like Gadhafi, was defeated by the West, not his own people.

Egypt, of course, was the big one, or at least seemed to be for a while, after all that inspiring people power in Tahrir Square. But there is an order of things in the Arab world, and the ruling class does not hand over power just because the people ask for it.

'The Arab Spring is a wishful figment of Western ideology.'

Egypt is at this moment ruled by a military dictatorship, which is vigorously and violently suppressing dissent, using the hated emergency law to prosecute opponents in their fearsome system of "security courts" and toss them into even more fearsome prisons. Sort of the same thing deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak used to do.

Actually, the single shining Arab Spring example is the first one: Tunisia. After a humiliated street vendor set himself on fire to protest police abuse, Tunisians rose up, drove out their dictator and are actually on the way to democracy, without anyone else's help.

Otherwise, the Arab Spring is a wishful figment of Western ideology — the naive, utterly unrealistic dogma of exporting democracy, summed up by George W. Bush's pithy response upon learning that sovereignty had been handed back to Iraq 15 months after the 2003 U.S. invasion: "Let freedom reign."

A people's yearning for self-determination may, in the odd instance, overwhelm a despot's viciousness. But generally, missiles and bombs do a much better job.

Which poses the fundamental questions: How many populations does the West want to liberate, and how do you choose the lucky beneficiaries?