The dictator’s survival guide

Somewhere, perhaps in Tripoli, his tribal home of Sirte, or perhaps a secret submarine headed for Caracas, Muammar al-Qaddafi sits amid an ever-shrinking cadre of loyalists, wondering how it all went wrong. He had implemented all of the time-tested tactics of coup-proofing: exploiting familial, ethnic, and religious ties, creating overlapping security forces that monitored each ...

Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images
Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images
Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

Somewhere, perhaps in Tripoli, his tribal home of Sirte, or perhaps a secret submarine headed for Caracas, Muammar al-Qaddafi sits amid an ever-shrinking cadre of loyalists, wondering how it all went wrong. He had implemented all of the time-tested tactics of coup-proofing: exploiting familial, ethnic, and religious ties, creating overlapping security forces that monitored each other, and showering money on his potential opponents. He disemboweled his own army so that it could not hurt him and then hired mercenaries and thugs to brutally put down his rebellious people. He took to the airwaves and streets, taunting his opponents, blaming outside influence, and promising swift retribution. For awhile, it seemed that stalemate was still a viable possibility. And yet on the night of Aug. 21, he was reduced to issuing impotent, rambling audio messages as his former subjects closed in around him.

Somewhere, perhaps in Tripoli, his tribal home of Sirte, or perhaps a secret submarine headed for Caracas, Muammar al-Qaddafi sits amid an ever-shrinking cadre of loyalists, wondering how it all went wrong. He had implemented all of the time-tested tactics of coup-proofing: exploiting familial, ethnic, and religious ties, creating overlapping security forces that monitored each other, and showering money on his potential opponents. He disemboweled his own army so that it could not hurt him and then hired mercenaries and thugs to brutally put down his rebellious people. He took to the airwaves and streets, taunting his opponents, blaming outside influence, and promising swift retribution. For awhile, it seemed that stalemate was still a viable possibility. And yet on the night of Aug. 21, he was reduced to issuing impotent, rambling audio messages as his former subjects closed in around him.

We know now that it has all gone horribly wrong for Africa’s longest-serving dictator. But what, exactly, went wrong?

Read more.

Micah Zenko is the co-author of Clear and Present Safety: The World Has Never Been Better and Why That Matters to Americans. Twitter: @MicahZenko

More from Foreign Policy

The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.
The USS Nimitz and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and South Korean Navy warships sail in formation during a joint naval exercise off the South Korean coast.

America Is a Heartbeat Away From a War It Could Lose

Global war is neither a theoretical contingency nor the fever dream of hawks and militarists.

A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.
A protester waves a Palestinian flag in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, during a demonstration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. People sit and walk on the grass lawn in front of the protester and barricades.

The West’s Incoherent Critique of Israel’s Gaza Strategy

The reality of fighting Hamas in Gaza makes this war terrible one way or another.

Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.
Biden dressed in a dark blue suit walks with his head down past a row of alternating U.S. and Israeli flags.

Biden Owns the Israel-Palestine Conflict Now

In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.
U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in profile as he greets Chinese President Xi Jinping with a handshake. Xi, a 70-year-old man in a dark blue suit, smiles as he takes the hand of Biden, an 80-year-old man who also wears a dark blue suit.

Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet

As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.