In sum, Gaddafi seems to have managed to destroy almost everything he touched: infrastructure, normal human interaction, the energy industry, the media — every aspect of life bore his destructive handprint.
So what does his apparent departure portend? Some random thoughts:
1) This is the first totalitarian, collectivist terror state to topple in this period of Middle Eastern unrest, which raises the question of whether others (e.g., Syria, Iran) might also face the same fate as Tunisia and Egypt, despite their willingness to shoot and kill indiscriminately and ban the international press.
2) Gaddafi hated the United States. Anti-American propaganda was spoon-fed to the population hourly (I remember watching the evenings newsreels’ ad nauseam depictions of U.S. “crimes” in Iraq). We are disliked by some countries’ protesters for cozying up to Saudi, Tunisian, Egyptian, and Pakistani authoritarians; does it necessarily follow that we will be liked by the opponents of anti-American authoritarians? Does anti-anti-Americanism translate into pro-Americanism?
I doubt it. In 2006, I heard constantly from my minders and others that Gaddafi was installed through some sort of U.S./Zionist plot to impoverish Libya. In general, if the Middle East becomes more ‘democratic’ (as in plebiscites without constitutions), we should brace, at least in the beginning, for a grassroots outpouring of anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Semitic venom, given what we have seen in various polls of popular opinion.
3) We were far less culpable than the Europeans in dealing with this monster — especially the British and Italians, who simply overlooked Libyans’ virtual imprisonment and looked for profits wherever possible.
4) The country has great natural beauty, a stunning coastline, a central location, untapped gas and oil reserves (Gaddafi’s incompetence often meant that oil was not so easy to extract and squander), incredible antiquities — and unlimited tourist and commercial potential should it ever embrace constitutional government.
5) Libyans seemed to me terrified of Egyptians, including the tens of thousands of illegal-alien Egyptians in their country. The oil fields in their lightly populated country are a little too near for their comfort to the border of the oil-needy, overpopulated Egyptian powerhouse. The oil-rich border regions between the two countries will be of interest in the days ahead.