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Gadhafi Never Had Influence Outside Libya

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Welcome to the program.

OLIVER MILES: Thank you.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should begin by asking how long there has been a Libya. Weren't there several countries, at one point, in that spot on the map?

MILES: Yes. Libya in its present form was put together after the Second World War by the United Nations. I think, really, the starting date is 1950.

INSKEEP: Nineteen fifty, it had been for a period before that - what - an Italian colony?

MILES: Yes, most of it had been an Italian colony. The further south part had been under the French. And the British had had quite close relations with the eastern part, Cyrenaica.

INSKEEP: This seems significant, given that different parts of the country seem to be moving in different directions. They actually had different colonial rulers and there were different nations there in past decades.

MILES: I don't want to overstate that. I've been wondering myself, at some moments in the last few days, whether it could break up again. I think this is a bit of a red herring. I don't think it's going to break up. I think the truth is that the protest movement has been successful in most of Libya, outside the capital city. But in the capital city, the struggle is still really in front of us, I think.

INSKEEP: How did Gadhafi come to power, Moammar Gadhafi?

MILES: He came to power by a military coup - which, of course, was described as a revolution in nineteen fifth - 1969, I beg your pardon. He overthrew a very feeble monarchy, which had been patched together and was running this very poor and very new African state.

INSKEEP: What did he stand for?

MILES: He stood for the same things that President Nasser of Egypt, at that time. So he stood for anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, Arab unity, the fight against Israel.

INSKEEP: Now he has come to seem, to us in the West, as something of a caricature. But was there a period in which he was, in fact, the major Arab leader that he seems to believe himself to be?

MILES: So although he tried very, very hard to present himself as an Arab leader and a force for unity in the Arab world, he was never accepted outside Libya in that way.

INSKEEP: How did Libya get so closely linked with terrorism, and alleged and eventually proven acts of terrorism, over time?

MILES: Because Gadhafi believed in this anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist struggle. I think he had, at the beginning, a slightly naive approach to it. He found that very soon, he had to get a little bit more sophisticated because every so-called freedom movement around the world was coming to Libya with its hand out for some cash, and they didn't all get it - but some did.

INSKEEP: Because he had money, people would come to him and he would find himself fraternizing with various armed groups and armed men.

MILES: Exactly. He was convinced that the IRA were a freedom movement and that they deserved his support. And he gave them support and he gave them some weapons. And that, of course, caused trouble between Libya and Britain, which was only sorted out really in the 1990s, when he managed to demonstrate to the British government that he no longer was supporting the IRA.

INSKEEP: Did he significantly change, though, in more recent years?

MILES: And he realized that holding weapons of mass destruction, or a program of weapons of mass destruction, was not any use from Libya's security point of view. And I think it was a rational decision to give them up.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much.

MILES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.