The Rat’s Deserted. Hold the Champagne

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News that Moussa Koussa, Libya’s foreign minister, has ditched the dictator and fled to London will boost the morale of the rebels and please NATO. A big-name defection may be exactly what it will take to shake Muammar Gaddafi’s resolve to fight till the bitter end. And they don’t come much bigger than Koussa, a former intelligence chief and longtime Gaddafi confidant.

But it’s possible Koussa’s desertion may mean more violence in Libya, not less.

His departure means there’s now one fewer official in the inner circle who might have had a chance to influence Gaddafi. If Koussa indeed believes his boss’s actions are wrong, then he would have been more useful in Tripoli, trying to get the dictator to see sense. Perhaps he’s already tried, and has now concluded that he can’t change Gaddafi’s mind. That’s very bad news. It’s now down to the dictator and his sons, and they’ve all shown a sizeable appetite for blood.

Koussa’s next steps bear watching. If all he wants now is asylum for himself and his family, that’s one thing. But if he aims to set himself up as the man to replace Gaddafi, then there will be more trouble. The rebels fighting in the east are unlikely to warm to a former intel chief and Gaddafi crony. Nor will the top officials who threw in with the rebels early on (people like Mahmoud Jibril, the ‘interim prime minister’) take kindly to a latecomer who tries to inject himself into their affairs.

It’s to be hoped that Koussa has quit for the right reasons, and that his exit will scare some sense into Gaddafi. But let’s not hold our breath.

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