Flashback: Why Gadhafi Won't Step Down

Saturday, 18 Jun 2011 12:00 PM

By Dr. G. Heath King

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Newsmax originally published this article by Dr. G. Heath King on March 23, 2011. Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has once again insisted he will not relinquish power, regardless of any international pressure.

King's article -- published three months ago -- predicted with uncanny accuracy how Gadhafi would defiantly behave during the crisis that threatens his grip on power.


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With coalition bombs raining down on Tripoli and ground battles escalating to full-scale war, it’s clear that predictions of swift victory for the Libyan rebellion lacked one key element: a thorough psychological understanding of leader Moammar Gadhafi.

While some have been quick to call Gadhafi a madman, a clinical evaluation of his policies, speeches, and published writings indicates they are not the ramblings of incoherent psychosis.

The rebellion sweeping the Middle East ran up against a most formidable obstacle in the resilient and resourceful strongman whose aberrant, brutal dictatorship has endured for more than four decades.

It is critical that the international forces now committed to battling Gadhafi fathom his psychological idiosyncrasies and his Berber-Bedouin heritage which, together with the appointment of other Berbers to key government positions, have contributed to him seeming as intractable as the desert of his birth.

The Berbers, a proud nomadic people of Spain and Morocco, resisted political and religious rule for centuries. Not even the 39-year fascist regime of Spain’s Francisco Franco could subdue them.

Gadhafi’s cunning, and his uncanny ability to read the strengths, weaknesses and hidden intentions of others, are attributes long credited for Berber survival. He also benefits from the Bedouins’ ability to detect deception among their own ranks. The 68-year-old Gadhafi’s ego is deeply imbued with a Bedouin’s acute suspicion of others and his penchant for retribution.

In the 1980s, Gadhafi was identified by the U.S. as a major supporter of terrorist groups in Europe. He ordered the 1988 downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland, killing 270 people, the majority of them Americans. Two years earlier, Gadhafi orchestrated an attack on a discotheque in West Berlin that killed two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman. President Reagan sent U.S. warplanes to bomb one of Gadhafi’s homes in retaliation, but Gadhafi was not harmed.

As for Gadhafi’s attire, it is seemingly Bedouin in simplicity, style, and fabric — but the clutter of medals that adorn his Western military uniform contradict the traditional Bedouin humility and hint at his megalomania.

Indeed there are deeper, more complicated psychological factors driving Gadhafi. In a 1973 interview in the Al-Balagh newspaper, Gadhafi related a pivotal childhood memory. "I used to have nightmares about German soldiers,” he said, referring to the bloody World War II clashes in Libya between the British and the Germans.

The prospects of another incursion by the West has no doubt reactivated the original childhood trauma and pushed Gadhafi into alternating “fight-or-flight” reactions similar to what a child would experience: a ceasefire, then lashing out, followed by another ceasefire, and again escalated aggression. This is likely to be the pattern now and into the future.

Gadhafi also exhibits a need for a protective maternal presence, likely a remnant of the fact that his mother, he claims, was a trained archer. He surrounds himself with his Amazonian Guard, a cadre of 30 female bodyguards who have all taken a vow of virginity and a pledge to give their lives to defend their leader. They are in a sense chastely “married” to Gadhafi with their energy and commitment solely directed to this end.
And like the protective mother, the Amazonian Guard will be devoted to Gadhafi unto death, as they proved in 1998, when one was killed and two wounded while foiling an assassination attempt.

It is important to note that all his cunning, suspicion, quirky behavior, and habit for revenge-seeking fall short of justification for labeling Gadhafi a “madman.”

Instead, an inner logic emerges. There are passages from Escape to Hell and Other Stories, a collection of Gadhafi’s narratives, that read like the counsel of a Western environmentalist. “The earth is the lung ... if you destroy it you will have no way to breathe. Depart the city and flee to the village, where you will see the moon for the first time in your lives.”

In Gadhafi’s political policies, this inner logic is often eclipsed by classic megalomania. In his vision for a pan-African state, he tried unsuccessfully to extend his one-year stint as head of the African Union. He also tried to use wealth to assert illicit influence by offering to pay the dues of poor African Union member nations.

At the 2009 Arab summit in Qatar, he bestowed the title “King of Kings” upon himself.

Such megalomania is a compensation for underlying paranoia. The embassy cables released by WikiLeaks reveal that Gadhafi suffered from hypochondria. We know from clinical observation that the hypochondriac is typically a self-centered personality with pronounced paranoiac tendencies who tends to withdraw from his surroundings.

Gadhafi gained notoriety for retreating to a tent both at home and when travelling abroad, another point where Bedouin custom reinforced Gadhafi's psychological complicated make-up.

Separate WikiLeaks cables detail Gadhafi’s preference for books focused on the preservation of democracy in the post-modern world.

Among his favorites: Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat 3.0, and even President Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.
Gadhafi now finds himself between two worlds — the vanishing culture of the old, and new democratic template.

Dr. King is a psychoanalyst and former professor at Yale University.


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