“We came, we saw, he died,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in one of the most flippant and least diplomatic comments heard in recent history. She, of course, was referring to the violent death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. She completely dismissed any calls for justice; there were no declarations by her or any other Western interventionist to honor due process within the rule of law. It almost seemed as if nothing else mattered beyond the US claimed success.
Sparked by protests in Tunisia, dictatorial leaders in the region are being removed through unprecedented peaceful protest despite responses of regimes like those in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria which respond by brutally imprisoning, torturing and murdering populations that want change. These demonstrations are not purely for democracy. They are being waged in hopes of changing an inequitable and unjust system, one that gives no rights to the individuals who want a voice in their future, be it economic, political or legal.
The West, and in particular the US Secretary of State, is missing this important point which is necessary if we are to ensure progress that is for the people, by the people in these countries. Instead Clinton did not waste time celebrating Gaddafi’s murder. Following her lead, television outlets seemed overjoyed at the ability to parade the bloody, shirtless and seemingly deceased Gaddafi all over the airwaves. Adding drama to insult and injury, anchors did not quit. “Did they pull him out of a hole?” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked the Libyan Ambassador to the US over and over again. American soldiers would be in jail for that behavior, but not American leadership. They applaud those responsible for Gaddafi’s cruel death. It is exceedingly surreal.
Of course, it is the right of the Libyan people to rejoice in their new-found “freedom,” which will hopefully turn into some semblance of order with civil, economic, democratic and judicial progress. It is not however responsible or acceptable for world leaders to mock someone’s gruesome demise. From the Secretary of State on down, Senators and Republican presidential candidates took pleasure in American hegemony and the loss of life, apparently oblivious to the grisly pictures. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war who should by all counts know better, went so far as to put the leaders of Iran, Syria and even China on notice telling them they should not test American resolve because they could be next.
Instead of embracing engagement and robust diplomacy, the US seems to be too content with its excessive use of military power and coercive statecraft. Rule of law or just basic self-respect are secondary.
Like him or not, Gaddafi, like Saddam Hussein, believed that the US supported him in more ways than arms and oil exploration. Gaddafi gave up his nuclear program, although it was fairly nonexistent, and energy credits to normalize relations at the insistence of one American president only to find himself the literal target of another.
“We hope he can be captured or killed soon,” spouted Clinton, basically calling on the Libyan people to assassinate a leader who ruled for over 40 years. At the forefront of this war was the administration’s call for the “responsibility to protect.” In Gaddafi’s case though, he apparently did not deserve protection or trial. In all too many eyes, protection is sadly afforded to some but not “others” — putting little room between the administration and the dictator they deposed.
The world has shockingly become a society that favors some human life over others, blinding us all to brutality and outright murder. True, there are people that are criminals, but this is why there is the rule of law. As the Arab world embraces civil rights and democracy, it would do better to learn to honor the very rights that it is fighting for. As for the US, it must get serious about spreading human rights across the board.
This incessant need to create a foreign policy based on force must change. In July of this year, the Pew Global Attitudes Project reported that “in Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan, the belief that Americans and Europeans are hostile has become more common since 2006.” The US call for, and then subsequent reaction to, the Gaddafi’s death does little to counter this impression. The only way to respond to such a dishonorable sense of who Americans are is for this and every US administration to conduct foreign policy by holding steadfast to its own beliefs in democracy and the rule of law for all people — and this, like it or not, includes dictators.
Suggested citation: Patricia DeGennaro, US Response to Gaddafi’s Death Sets Bad Precedent, JURIST – Hotline, Oct. 28, 2011, http://jurist.org/hotline/2011/10/patricia-degennaro-gaddafi-death.php.