Muammar al-Gaddafi, 1969.

By the time Orton and Halliwell’s commingled ashes had been thoroughly absorbed into the “Garden of Remembrance” topsoil at North London’s Golders Green Crematorium, a group of Libyan army officers deposed Idris and set up a republic. Their young leader Muammar al-Gaddafi then commenced his assault on the dictator longevity world record. He has now been in power a remarkable 42 years and counting.

Much water has flowed under the bridge these forty-odd years. Libya’s population has quintupled, but constitutionally the place has gone backward under Gaddafi’s crude gangsterism. To be sure, the colonel has mellowed somewhat with age and seems to have been chastened by the spectacle of Saddam Hussein being run out of his capital by American tanks, but he is still a nasty piece of work.

Those 42 years in power show impressive survival skills, but Gaddafi’s present situation looks dire. With no allies, how will he keep his troops supplied with food and ammunition? The NATO bombing can’t have helped, though it seems to me to have been foolish and ill-considered, a purposeless intervention in a tribal fracas that was none of our business.

(Speaking of survival skills, what a strange thing it is that we still have NATO twenty-odd years after its raison d’être disappeared. As tenacious as individual dictators can be, they are no match survival-wise for entrenched multinational bureaucracies.)

I see in today’s newspapers that the Italians are trying to fix up Gaddafi with a bolt-hole in Africa somewhere. What a melancholy prospect! I always felt a bit sorry for Idi Amin, monster that he undoubtedly was, for having to spend his declining years in Saudi Arabia. I think Gaddafi taking the reverse route to exile may be even more pitiable.

And who will be entertaining Mr. Gaddafi? I suppose Robert Mugabe might have a palace to spare, but I doubt the climate would suit Gaddafi. Mali, on the other hand, is Muslim and sandy.

The old murderer might take a stand on principle and refuse to leave Tripoli. In that event he must be told by someone he’ll listen to”€”if any such person exists”€”what Rance tells Geraldine in Joe Orton’s play What the Butler Saw: “I can’t encourage you in such a self-indulgent attitude. You must face facts like the rest of us.”

Meanwhile the chaos deepens and the human tsunami pours ever more copiously over the great berm. In the large scheme of things, Gaddafi’s a blip. It’s those thousands of determined refugees heading north across the Mediterranean, and the millions who will follow them, that will fuel historical development in the coming decades.



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