Gadhafi's Sons Propose To Take Reigns In Libya
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Next, we move to North Africa, Libya, where there may be a new plan to end the conflict. The New York Times reports that two of Gadhafi's sons have proposed a scenario wherein their father would step aside and allow a new transitional democracy to be formed. This interim government would be led by one of Gadhafi's seven sons, Saif al-Islam al-Gadhafi.
This week, the U.S. special envoy to Libyan opposition leaders, John Christopher Stevens, is expected to arrive in Benghazi to help draw a clearer picture of the groups among the opposition to the Gadhafi regime. We wanted to get a sense of how Libya might be led once the conflict is resolved, so we've called up someone who has spent decades as a diplomat in the Middle East.
David Mack was a political officer in Tripoli in 1969 when a young soldier named Moammar Gadhafi seized power in a military coup. He later became the U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. He's worked as a diplomat in the region for decades. He's now with the Middle East Institute, and he was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. DAVID MACK (Vice President, Middle East Institute): Oh, it's my privilege, Michel.
MARTIN: What do you - first of all, what do you make of the idea that one of Gadhafi's sons might take over an interim government? What do you make of this proposal? Is this a credible one?
Mr. MACK: It's possible that he might take over an interim rump government centered around Tripoli. I doubt very much whether he would be acceptable to the rebels as an interim leader for the country.
MARTIN: What role do his sons play in his regime? What role have they played over the years?
Mr. MACK: Well, increasingly, as Moammar Gadhafi has become more and more suspicious and his constituency has narrowed, he has increasingly concentrated on close tribal kinsmen and members of his own rather large family. And he's relied, to a considerable degree, on various of his sons for different functions.
MARTIN: May I ask you for your personal opinion about this? One of the things that I think many Americans will have observed of him over the years is in addition to his ruthlessness, his - what seem to be just personal eccentricities, and I just wanted to ask: Is he mad?
Mr. MACK: No. He's not crazy. The Moammar Gadhafi I knew - and we were both in our late 20s was - like a lot of young men in their late 20s, he was very idealistic. He was filled with all kinds of personal ambitions and resentments against the imperialists and against Italian colonialism and against the big oil companies.
But he was actually very shrewd, very sharp. I would've considered - I considered him to be emotionally not very stable, and I was interpreter in a lot of meetings. So I had opportunity to observe him as another young guy in his late 20s. I think over time, since he's been able to put a lot of his youthful fantasies into reality, he has gradually lost touch with the rest of the world.
He doesn't understand how he is regarded by others - other Libyans, foreign leaders, the media. And so he increasingly has become erratic. He's become more and more rigid. He's not crazy. But he definitely is inclined to behavior that is very self-defeating for him and very bad for Libya.
MARTIN: Is it possible that he could - first of all, is it possible that he really does not know the extent of opposition to him, even at this point?
Mr. MACK: Well, I believe that. I think he has managed to delude himself into thinking that he is beloved by all but a tiny minority of the Libyan people. I think that's probably true. And to a degree, as he's become more and more erratic and more tyrannical, people are afraid to bring him the truth.
MARTIN: What about his sons? Are they afraid to bring him the truth, as well? Because one of the interesting things about the reporting, here, is that -there were a couple of his sons, one in particular, Saif, who is known to many Western journalists, a number of people - diplomats in the West, particularly -seems to have close relationships with people across the international scene who might be conveyers of truth to him. That did not - you don't think that's the case?
Mr. MACK: Well, Moammar Gadhafi, like so many aging family patriarchs, plays his various sons off against one another. And none of them ever know quite where they stand with him. And he uses them for different purposes. And he's used Saif as somebody to present a face to the West, to the greater global community. And he's relied upon some of his other sons for more security-oriented tasks.
MARTIN: It does appear, though, that there is some effort to negotiate an endgame strategy. And now, there are officials - there are, obviously, members of this government and presumably around the world who are concerned about ties to al-Qaida and Hezbollah within the rebel forces. Do you think that that's a credible concern?
Mr. MACK: Well, I think we need to find out a lot more about the rebel apparatus. I mean, I know three of four or five, perhaps, members of the Transitional National Council, and I know the Libyan ambassador here - or former Libyan ambassador - and his counterpart in New York. And they're all fine people and very distinguished professionals, and most of them have been with the Gadhafi regime until quite recently.
However, there are lots of other people involved out there, and we don't know very much, which is why the president and secretary of state have made a decision to send a very qualified U.S. diplomat out there. He's a diplomat I know. He was assigned at our embassy in Tripoli, so he knows Libya. He speaks very good Arabic, and he and other U.S. government officials will be finding out more about the political structure in that country, who really - who they are, who they really represent. What are their resources? What are their capabilities?
And these are the sort of things we need to know, because they're not asking for a small amount. They're asking for us to recognize them as the sole and legitimate government of Libya, and they only control, at best, a small part of the country. So we have to be - proceed very carefully, I think.
MARTIN: Is there a precedent for that, recognizing even this small part of that country?
Mr. MACK: No, normally, what we ask of any new regime is: To what extent do you control the territory that you're claiming to speak for? And secondly, will you keep international agreements? Now, the new regime has done the latter. They've made it very clear that they're not going to depart from the agreements against terrorism or weapons of mass destruction or any of those things that are very important to us, of course.
But they have not been very clear - and I don't think they always know themselves - about their own capabilities and what they actually control in the country.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm speaking with David Mack. He's a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, representing the United States, of course. He served in diplomatic postings across the Middle East for more than 40 years. We're talking about Libya and who might lead the country if Gadhafi were to be toppled.
And in the time that we have left, though, could we talk - turn our attention to other countries in the region, like Egypt and Tunisia? Tunisia seems to have weathered this change with as little disruption as one can even imagine. But I'd like to get your perspective on it.
Mr. MACK: Michel, I did spend three years in Tunisia, and that's, to a very great degree - because it has many strengths that Libya does not. It has a very capable civilian bureaucracy. It has a small, but rather capable armed forces. It has a private sector, which although it is struggling, has shown the capacity for actually doing business with the Europeans and with Americans. So they have the building blocks for a new governmental system.
Libya does not. To a sense - in a sense, Gadhafi succeeded in doing what he set out to do as a sort of a utopian socialist radical. I mean, he dismantled most of the government apparatus. He basically nationalized all the private companies, so there's no longer much of a private sector. So you don't really have a lot to deal with.
There are tribal leaders, of course, but nobody quite knows where their allegiances lie or what their capability would be to reconstitute a new government.
MARTIN: And we only have about two minutes left, so we don't have time to talk about Egypt. So, let us talk, if we could, just in the two minutes we have left, not enough time to talk about Yemen, where it does appear that the U.S. has now, even though this president has been an ally of the United States in some manner, it does appear that the U.S. is urging him to step down. What is the scenario there?
Mr. MACK: Well, I've met with all of these leaders that have been on the news: Ben Ali, Gadhafi, Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh. I will say, of all of them, Ali Abdullah Saleh was the most impressive in terms of somebody who really knew how to deal with this very, very difficult governing situation. He was not a democrat in any sense, but he was extremely capable at balancing off the various tribes and various interests. And he worked well with the United States. But we have long felt that is was time for him to begin transitioning out of power. And I think he is now beginning to see the realism of that course.
MARTIN: And what would replace - what or who would replace him?
Mr. MACK: Well, I think it's likely to be a rather similar leader, I hope one that would not stay in power for so long. But I think the reality is that the problems of Yemen really require somebody who is very adept at this kind of tribal politics and balancing off of various factions that Ali Abdullah Saleh has been so successful at.
MARTIN: We have about 30 seconds left. You talked about the lack of, really, a civil society - of a functioning civil society in Libya. Is that present in Yemen?
Mr. MACK: No. Yemen does have strong elements of civil society. Aside from the tribal structure, it has got a working parliament, an elected parliament. It has got women's associations, labor unions, a fairly independent media. It's got the constituents for a new political system.
MARTIN: David Mack was a political officer in Libya when Moammar Gadhafi first rose to power. He's a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. He now works with the Middle East Institute in Washington. And as you heard, he has a deep background in many of the countries of the region. And he was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studio.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. MACK: You're welcome, Michel.
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