Qaddafi digs in; But what happens if regime falls?

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi gestures as he enters the U.N. headquarters for the United Nations General Assembly on September 23, 2009 in New York City. This is the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly featuring leaders from over 120 countries. (Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Muammar Gaddafi
Rick Gershon
Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi is seen in a September, 2009 file photo.

Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi vowed in a rambling speech Tuesday to fight on to his "last drop of blood" rather than submit to the growing protests against his regime.

Speaking on Al Jazeera television Tuesday, Ibrahim Sharqieh, Deputy Director of the Brookings Doha Center, said that Qaddafi's speech showed that he is "detached from reality and believes the people are still with him and supporting him."

For over an hour, Qaddafi demonized protesters and outside forces, including the U.S. He suggested that the U.S. and NATO are preparing to invade Libya, that protesters are naive children imitating the events in Egypt and Tunisia and that "groups that infiltrated our cities are giving those youths hallucination pills."

Qaddafi and his son have made reference to rivers of blood and efforts to violently root out dissidents "house by house" if protesters do not surrender. "I have not yet ordered the use of force, not yet ordered one bullet to be fired," the Libyan leader said Tuesday. "When I do, everything will burn."

It remains to be seen whether Qaddafi, who is known to make outrageous statements, will be able to follow through on such promises.

"There is a split in the military and in state institutions," Sharqieh said. Pilots defected to Malta and some military units in Benghazi have backed the protesters. But Sharqieh said he could not predict whether the military would continue support Qaddafi's violent crackdown on protesters.

But there's little doubt that Qaddafi means what he says.

The Libyan leader "is a ruthless, unstable revolutionary dictator who has imported mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and other Sub-Saharan dictator-led countries to massacre his own people as protests erupt across his subjugated nation," Marc Ginsberg, the former U.S. ambassador to Morocco wrote Tuesday in the Huffington Post. "In the panoply of 21st century ruthless leaders, he surely ranks in the Top 5 of the devil's allies on earth."

Libya is flanked to the east by Egypt and to the northwest by Tunisia - both countries where unpopular regimes fell at the hands of popular protests. But Libya is entirely different, Ginsberg argues, because Qaddafi "will use as much brute force as he can import to quell the uprising, ... because there is no brake on his power other than the ability of the Libyan people to fight tooth and nail with their own wits and blood against him."

Ginsberg argues that if Qaddafi does fall, chaos and tribal warfare - a kind of "Afghanistan in north Africa" - would be the likely result.

"Libya's future leadership is anyone's guess," New America Foundation fellow Eliza Grizwold wrote in The Daily Beast. "The most coherent opposition to the Gaddafi regime for the past two decades has come from Islamists who have launched several failed attempted assassinations against Gaddafi."

Although neither Ginsberg nor Grizwold says so, these concerns may partially explain the so far tepid response from the U.S. State Department, which has condemned the violence but resisted further interventions, falling back on the old standby that this is an issue between the Libyan people and its leadership.

"We have grave concerns about the Libyan response to these protesters," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said at a press briefing Tuesday. "We don't want to see any sort of violence."

When reporters asked him about possible sanctions, direct talks with Qaddafi, calling for Qaddafi's resignation, or intervention in what some Libyan officials are calling a genocide there, Crowley said that the U.S. has had "difficulty verifying some of the horrible reports emanating from Libya," that "We are trying to ascertain facts, trying to understand exactly what is happening within the country."

He said that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statements and U.S. participation in U.N. Security Council meetings essentially constitute the official U.S. response at this point.