Show Notes: Libya and the Fall of Gaddafi

Ben Bowlin

Muammar Gaddafi, at the 2009 African Union Summit.
Muammar Gaddafi, at the 2009 African Union Summit.
Muammar Gaddafi, at the 2009 African Union Summit. (United States Navy, 2009.)

Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for more than 40 years before he was killed by rebel forces in October, 2011. Our recent episodes on Libya explore two events: the tragic bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the fall of the Gaddafi regime. In this post, we've included some of the sources from our episode on the 2011 NATO intervention, as well as some notes on topics we just couldn't squeeze into our show.

Before we go any further, we must emphasize this: Muammar Gaddafi was no saint. But he wasn't some two-dimensional Bond villain, either. He made several significant contributions to Libya, perhaps most notably with the Great Manmade River Project. This sprawling network of underground pipes moved much-needed fossil water from beneath the desert sands to Libya's coastal regions, and in 2008 the Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the world's largest irrigation project. Both life expectancy and literacy rates rose under Gaddafi's rule, as well.

Still, like any dictator, his reign was marked by oppression and, often, rampant corruption. For example, documents indicate that he ordered his generals to bombard and starve the populace of Misrata, and numerous sources dive into the shady details of his family fortune. Sadly, this doesn't make him unique. The modern world has no shortage of dictators, from Than Shwe in Myanmar to the Kim dynasty of the DPRK, to Paul Kagame of Eritrea and more.

So here's the big question: Why did NATO choose to intervene? What made Gaddafi's regime unique amid the global rogue's gallery of strongmen, despots and tyrants? NATO characterized the project -- known as Operation Unified Protector -- as a case of humanitarian intervention. Some agree that the intervention was necessary, and unique only in that it was possible. Others, especially outside western culture, hold to a different interpretation. As with the invasion of Iraq, theories and rumors have proliferated. In our episode, we touch on some of the more prevalent ideas: the theory that the conflict was a western resource grab, for example, or that Gaddafi's plan to move away from the petrodollar posed a threat to the global status quo.

It's true that Gaddafi pushed for a "United States of Africa," with closer interstate financial ties. But could this be a reason for his demise? If so, then why act in 2011? It's not as if these were new actions -- Gaddafi had been making similar moves for years. Conclusively answering the "why Libya?" question is tricky, but one thing's for sure: There's no shortage of evidence that Gaddafi committed human rights violations... and that's exactly what NATO accused him of doing.

Although Matt and I must move on to next week's topics, we're still keeping an eye on developments in Libya -- and we'd like to hear what you think: What's the future of this nation? Let us know by visiting our Facebook page, dropping us a line on Twitter, or sending us a good old-fashioned email at

A Shortlist of Sources: