Niall Ferguson: After the Fall of Gaddafi

Roundup: Historians' Take

Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University and a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, was published in November.

It still works. Western military intervention—no matter how halfhearted and apparently ineffectual—is still sufficient to tip the balance against a rogue regime. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi had the same distinctive qualities as his entire career: a strange mixture of the bloody and the farcical, like a cross between Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. But fall he did, even if, as I write, he has still eluded capture. This much is certain: his overthrow would not have happened without the support, mostly but not exclusively in the air, that NATO provided to the rebels against his rule.

It still works. Last week, exultant rebels in Tripoli clambered on Gaddafi’s vainglorious statue of an American warplane in the grip of a mighty Libyan fist. Turns out that in the age-old game of missile-revolt-dictator, the political equivalent of rock-paper-scissors, missile still beats dictator. Slobodan Milosevic could have told him. So could Saddam Hussein.

It still works. The outcome in Libya was decided by the United States and its European allies. China may have the world’s fastest-growing economy, but its leaders have been more or less irrelevant. Last week, they belatedly recognized the legitimacy of the rebels’ National Transitional Council. Doing so only after the rebels were inside Gaddafi’s compound redefines “behind the curve.”

It still works. But it’s not enough...

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