It's the black gold that drives nations mad and inevitably raises the question of whether America and the former European colonial powers give a damn about human rights as the basis for military intervention. If Libya didn't have more oil than any other nation in Africa would the West be unleashing high-tech military mayhem to contain what is essentially a tribal-based civil war? Once again an American president summons the passions of a human rights crusade against a reprehensible ruler whose crimes, while considerable, are not significantly different from those of dictators the U.S routinely protects.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Moammar Gadhafi must now go not because his human rights record is egregious but rather because his erratic hold on power seems spent. After all, from the London School of Economics to Harvard, influential foreign policy experts were all too happy until quite recently to accept Libyan payoffs in exchange for a more benign view of Gadhafi's prospects for change under the gentle guidance of what Harvard's Joseph Nye celebrated as "soft power."
But that revisionist appraisal of Gadhafi suddenly became an embarrassment when this nutty dictator -- whom few in the world could ever understand, let alone warm to -- was exposed by defections from his own armed forces to be akin to rotten fruit destined to drop. Libya's honeymoon with the West, during which leaders led by Tony Blair and George W. Bush thought Col. Gadhafi might finally prove to be a worthy partner more concerned with reliably exporting oil than ineffectively ranting against Western imperialism, has suddenly been abandoned as no longer necessary. As with former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein before him, the Libyan strongman now seemed an awkward relic of a time that had passed him by, and easily replaceable. Not so the royal ruler of Saudi Arabia and the surrogates he finances in Yemen and Bahrain; their suppression of their peoples still falls within acceptable limits because of the vast resources the king manages in a manner that Western leaders have long found agreeable.