The rather tacky sculpture of a golden fist crushing a US fighter jet in commemoration of the 1986 air strikes on Libya will doubtless go down as one of the iconic images of the 42-year reign of Moammar Gaddafi in much the same way as the Victory Arch in central Baghdad symbolized the once formidable rule of Saddam Hussein. Until recently, beyond narrow diplomatic circles, little in the wider world was known about the sculpture though apparently Colonel Gaddafi never wasted an opportunity at showing it off to world leaders [see here for instance for a picture of President Sarkozy posing with Colonel Gadaffi in front of the golden fist].
Yesterday, however, for the first time in its history the sculpture took centre stage in full view of the international media in ways that Moammar Gaddafi could never have conceived and would almost certainly have bitterly deplored. Amid jubilant scenes, rebel fighters congregated at the site, climbed the sculpture and set about defacing it with graffiti. But as the images were being beamed around the world, there was something strangely surreal about the whole experience. For one thing, everyone knows that the rebels may never have made it to Bab Al-Aziziya — let alone Tripoli — had it not been for the20,121 air sorties (including 7,587 strike sorties) unleashed by the awesome might of NATO war planes. So it must surely have crossed someone’s mind that perhaps a more fitting way of defiling the sculpture might have been to prise open the fist, free the plane, and establish it as a momentary tribute to the rebels’ powerful benefactors. And yet, in another sense, barring its US air force insignia, the golden fist is ironically the most appropriate tribute to UN Security Council Resolution 1973 — the ostensible legal basis, so we are repeatedly told, for imposing a ‘no-fly zone’ on Gaddafi’s war planes.
Symbolism aside, it’s unclear right now how the next chapter in the Libyan people’s revolution is likely to unfold. Worryingly but not suprisingly, there was an ominous suggestion yesterday of the troubles and challenges that lie ahead. At a NATO press briefing, NATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, announced that ambassadors would be meeting shortly at NATO headquarters to discuss “options for a possible NATO role” in the post-Gaddafi period. Of course, you don’t need to be an expert in political science to figure out that NATO powers will not be leaving in a hurry until — much like the recent London rioters – they are assured free reign to loot Libya’s oil and gas reserves, and are guaranteed lucrative commercial contracts. Which is why, depressingly, whatever happens next, one thing is for sure: that the closeness of the Transitional National Council with NATO (in particular its by now well-established links with the CIA and MI6) cannot surely be in the interests of the Libyan people — let alone in line with the fanfare about protecting freedom, democracy and human rights. So unless at some point this unholy union is somehow dissolved, we can sadly expect more mayhem, misery and bloodshed.