Moammar Kadafi’s inner ‘I’

In March, a few days after NATO planes began bombing Libya, Moammar Kadafi delivered a speech to the nation he had ruled for more than four decades.

“Great Libyan people,” he began, “you are now living through glorious hours.” In the speech, designed to rally Libyans with soaring rhetoric to stand against the rebellion and the foreign attacks, Kadafi ended with a promise. “We will defeat them by any means.... We are ready for the fight, whether it will be a short or a long one.... We will be victorious in the end.”

The speech may well have been an attempt by Kadafi to emulate Winston Churchill’s stirring World War II oratory during the London Blitz, when Britain endured 58 bombing raids designed to break the will of the British people. In a speech on June 18, 1940, Churchill exhorted his countrymen to “brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British empire and its commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

The charismatic British prime minister’s powerful addresses to the nation were widely credited with maintaining national resolve and bracing the people during their darkest hour. In another speech, he spoke eloquently about the “many, many long months of struggle and suffering” ahead and vowed “to wage war with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalog of human crime.”


However much Kadafi may have hoped to inspire his people as Churchill did, he had a problem that couldn’t be overcome: his narcissism. Ultimately, the speech descended into characteristic Kadafi-speak — self-aggrandizing and written mostly in the first-person singular.

“I say to you,” he intoned, “I’m not afraid, not afraid of the planes that cause so much destruction. I am defiant.... I do not fear storms that sweep the horizon, nor do I fear the planes that throw black destruction.”

Where Churchill placed himself squarely with the people, favoring the second person and talking of “we” and “us” and “our,” Kadafi set himself far above other Libyans.

“I am resistant,” he said. “I am the creator of tomorrow, I am here, I am here, I am here.” The thought reflected Kadafi’s sense that he is Libya. As he earlier put it, Libya is “my country. I created it, and I can destroy it.”

Kadafi has been characterized as insane, a madman, “the mad dog of the Middle East” (in President Reagan’s words). But for the most part he is crazy like a fox, a consummate survivor who is firmly in touch with reality and capable of shrewdly assessing his situation.

Still, there are two kinds of situations in which he is highly likely to display faulty judgment and erratic behavior: when he is winning, and when he is losing.

At the beginning of the uprising, when rebel forces were surging ahead and defeat seemed imminent, he assumed a stance he has frequently employed: that of the heroic Muslim warrior standing courageously against superior forces. This posture became more pronounced after NATO’s air campaign began. From the start, he insisted megalomaniacally that “all my people love me, they will protect me.” And he believed it in the face of all evidence. Anyone against him must have been set against him by Al Qaeda or the United States.

When the battle seemed to turn in Kadafi’s favor and his forces were marching toward the rebel headquarters in Benghazi, he again seemed to lose touch with reality, appearing swollen with pride, invulnerable, expansive in his predictions of total victory and vowing to show no mercy.

Now, with the seizure of his fortified compound in Tripoli, the end is near, Kadafi is in hiding, and he is again issuing defiant and grandiose statements. He has lost, and he is under the greatest stress of his entire career. But on Aug. 21, he vowed that he would not surrender. “We cannot go back until the last drop of our blood. We will defend the city. I am here with you. Go on, forward.”

When Kadafi vows to fight “to the last drop of my blood,” he means it. He will not commit suicide or go off into lush exile. Unlike Churchill, whose soaring rhetoric placed him squarely with the British people, Kadafi’s self-aggrandizing speeches have placed him apart, and every day he loses more followers, making it likely he will find himself with few supporters at the end.

Many high officials in his government have already defected. One of them, Abdel-Salam Jalloud, who had been with Kadafi since the 1969 coup that brought him to power, said recently that “Kadafi is delusional because he thinks he can disappear in Libya, and when NATO leaves, he believes he can gather his supporters.”

At this point, with defeat looming, Kadafi is delusional. The only question now is how many Libyans will remain with him on his first-person-singular course to the bitter end.

Jerrold M. Post is director of the political psychology program at George Washington University. He was founding director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior and is the author of “Leaders and Their Followers in a Dangerous World” and “The Mind of the Terrorist.”