NBC News is reporting that US intelligence officials are telling it that Muammar Qaddafi is considering fleeing into exile in neighboring Tunisia. This in the wake of the dramatic advances made by Free Libya forces, who now control about 2/3s of the country, and who are in a position to cut the capital off from fuel.
I fear that NBC is being used by US intelligence for psy-ops purposes, since the report strikes me as highly unlikely to be true.
1. While Qaddafi might be willing to flee Tripoli, I’m not sure he has it in his cantankerous old soul to go into exile abroad.
2. Tunisia would not want him. He opposed the Tunisian revolution and had had members of the Ben Ali government on retainer. When I was in Tunisia this summer I found that most Tunisians to whom I spoke were afraid of Qaddafi and tended to support the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, even if some opposed NATO intervention. There would be a danger of him intriguing with tribal supporters in Libya from Tunisia, which would be a huge headache for the latter.
3. The Transitional National Council would not accept Qaddafi’s presence right next door, from which he could do mischief, nor his residence on the soil of a friendly neighbor.
4. Tunisia has joined the International Criminal Court. Since the ICC has indicted Qaddafi for war crimes, as a signatory Tunisia would be constrained to turn him over to the Hague for trial.
So, while it would be a wonderful thing if Qaddafi would just go away somewhere, and it might even save Libya’s future, I just don’t believe the intelligence officials who told NBC this story. My guess is that they wanted to demoralize the loyalist officers and high politicians in Tripoli and encourage them to defect. After all, anyone who defects now is a hero. Wait too long and the same person will be on trial for treason. And if Qaddafi himself is about to abandon ship like a rat, then why risk your life for him any further?
As the rebels close in on the capital, there will be popular uprisings in working class suburbs, repeating what happened from Feb. 17. Some opposition sources say that these uprisings are already beginning. Many troops will switch sides at that point. If the officer corps has any sense, it will arrest its pro-Qaddafi minders, slip some rags soaked in chloroform over the mouths of the Qaddafis, and put them on a plane to some distant country that would host them and is not a member of the ICC.
All the alternatives to this scenario are much less desirable, and some are potential disasters. Qaddafi has threatened to mine and booby-trap the capital, which could make it a death trap for civilian non-combatants for years to come. Apart from those concerns, on the political side of things it would be far better if Tripoli can claim to have made its own revolution against the tyrant, so that its residents can join the TNC as equals with their heads held high.