Oliver Cross: Land of confusion

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THIS week, I heard a BBC radio news report which made me despair of ever finding out what is going on in Libya.

There had been, according to the Gaddafi side, strikes on two government buildings during the night and the BBC reporter had been pulled out of his bed by the Gaddafi propaganda machine (or the department of information, as we call it in the UK) so he could see “protests” by people said to be “loyal” to Col Gaddafi.

I know this shouldn’t be possible, but the reporter was actually speaking in quotation marks, with a sort of BBC sneer to indicate that these weren’t real protests – protesting being an activity specific to the goodies – and they weren’t real loyalists.

Which I could have accepted, were it not for the fact that Iraq, Afghanistan and, more recently, the events of the ‘Arab spring’ have shown conclusively that western correspondents and experts are no guide whatever to what’s happening in the Muslim world and if you were after predictions, you would do better to find a psychic octopus.

Which is a cheap jibe but an accurate one; neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have turned out at all as expected, and most of the experts failed to notice the Arab rebellions until they saw them on TV. Then, as if to make up for their slackness, they piled in with wildly unrealistic predictions about how the rebels would sweep away the old tyrannies within weeks, if not days.

And don’t forget that William Hague, who as Foreign Secretary should have been more on top of the situation than most, said in February that “credible Western intelligence sources” had told him that Col Gaddafi had fled Libya for Venezuela. Fools, the lot of them.

But, to return to this week’s BBC report on Libya. As I understand it (though this is only from credible Western sources and therefore no more reliable than the long-term weather forecast), Gaddafi has been in charge for over 40 years so all public-sector workers owe their jobs, in some sense, to him.

Gaddafi also makes skilful play of Libyan tribal rivalries, which would explain why the country has divided geographically to fight its civil war, and why, when the BBC reporter sneered at the idea that there could be such a thing as a Gaddafi loyalist, he could well have been wrong. Successful tyrants do produce genuine loyalists, or they wouldn’t be successful tyrants.