It was back in the early 1980’s when Muammar Gaddafi was truly terrifying… His bravado commando persona stood in such stark contrast to our bumbling, smiling, airy voiced actor-in-cheif. Or it could have been the Terminator sunglasses paired with the Kufi skull cap that made him such a fascinating pariah.
Gaddafi was the proto Bin Laden and the nightly news did its pre-24-cycle best to spin his wicked narrative into the necessary dramatic highpoints. The rumor was like something out of a movie: a five man hit squad had infiltrated the United States to assassinate Ronald Reagan. It was enough to keep every grade school kid awake at night. Was this maniac from the Middle East really going to take on the U.S.A.? Where was his hit squad right now?
Gaddafi set the benchmark for hubris, taunting America just enough to keep it engaged, but not so much that it would engage Libya militarily. This gave him immense cultural capital in the Middle East. Chavez has soaked up the role with relish. Hoarding his countries limited resources while his own people face a Malthusian catastrophe. Maybe Gaddafi got jealous.
Why the US never succeeded in a counter assassination is akin to the “mystery” as to why it took ten years to take out Bin Laden. Is it the basic Lacanian psychology that it’s better to have a living target for our anger than a dead one? Osama was an established brand after all. One fear mongers worked hard to cultivate, and maintain till his recent death (no body… so you know he’s playing cards with Elvis). It will take years to create another distraction as powerful as Bin Laden. But the need to draw the countries attention away from more pressing domestic matters remains. So Gaddafi will remain alive for a bit until we can supplant him a new and improved Global Enemy #1.
Gaddafi’s rise inspired all kinds of pop culture detritus. Movies shifted their bad guys from Russian accents to Middle Eastern. And punk music, which was all the rage at the time, began exalting the new demon. The newest punk rock compilation was called Not So Quiet On The Western Front and it featured Tongue Avuncular’s 1:06 minute rampage called, “Libyan Hit Squad”. The song became a favorite in our crew of 11 year old anarchists. It’s how we rolled.
But then something strange happened. In the 1990’s, Gaddafi, who had miraculously stayed in power, started cooperating with the west. He went from the poster boy of evil, to a model of reform. By 2003 he had agreed to stop his nuclear weapons program and UN sanctions were lifted. It appeared that the US and diplomacy had won. But not all was so quiet on the Libyan front.
The Gaddafi we always knew and loved was lurking, waiting for the perfect platform to terrorize and crush his own people once again.
The opportunity came with the revolt of 2011. His first move must have been to call his local tailor and have his favorite Colonel costume let out. He’s put a few pounds on over the years. It happens when you let fast food into your country, regardless of repeated “no fry zone” warnings.