The BBC’s coverage, as ever, inadvertently revealed the forces at work in the final collapse of the Gadaffi regime.
Over images of rebels pulling down the dictator’s statues a voice intoned: “What are we going to do following the fall of Gadaffi?”
For all the attempts by David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy to claim that this is a Libyan revolution, with just a nudge of support from the West, it’s clear to anyone who cares to look that this is a transformation of political power effected above all by the biggest military alliance in history – Nato.
Sure, there was an uprising – half a year ago.
But since Britain, France and latterly the US decided to use the stalemate in Libya to reinsert themselves into an Arab region which looked dangerously like it was slipping from their grasp, that uprising has been suborned, domesticated and made dependent on powers whose interest in freedom and democracy in the Middle East and north Africa can be measured by their unwavering support for the house of Saud, the gendarme of reaction in the region.
The opposition forces themselves acknowledged the indispensable role of Nato – through bombing and providing “special forces” on the ground – in the push on Tripoli and over the last few months.
The New York Times reported earlier this week on how the oil companies of the belligerent states are preparing to cherry-pick the gains.
Many of them had a presence in Libya under Gadaffi. But according to the Times, they were frustrated by the restrictions that were placed on their operations.
They are determined that there will be fewer constraints now.
And there’s the essential truth of this matter. The quixotic Gadaffi had long since ceased to embody the Nasserist spirit which breathed life into his overthrow of the ancien regime in Libya in 1969.
He had made his peace with George Bush, Silvio Berlusconi and Tony Blair. But he was ever an unreliable ally.
What Western policy is geared to in Libya and across the wider region is securing more reliable allies – some rearranging of the political furniture, the better to secure the underlying interests that have animated the great powers’ engagement there for decades.
This does not mean that the scenes in Tripoli are artificial – though the cliched reports echoing the fall of Baghdad should provide pause for thought.
But it does mean that the “liberation of Libya” is anything but.
The sophistry about the absence of “boots on the ground,” which some Western policy-makers are already arguing will be necessary under a UN guise to preserve order, says little about the extent of foreign interests or domination in the turbulent processes that will now unfold in Libya.
First, the Western powers have seized Libya’s foreign assets and are in charge of how they will be disbursed.
Does anyone seriously imagine that this largesse will find its way into the hands of truly revolutionary forces, of the kind who are now pressing in Egypt for the maximum change possible and not for a new concordat with the US, Israel and domestic kleptocrats?
Second, the Benghazi opposition leadership has already been winnowed over the last few months to make it as compliant as possible with Western interests.
Third, there is the talk of state-building and the army of not so much boots but Guccis on the ground as consultants and experts from such bastions of democracy as the IMF and World Bank descend on Tripoli.
These are the kinds of people who, with Western diplomats and Establishment NGOs, are poring over Tunisia and Egypt.
They are the outfits that are desperate to ensure that whatever emerges from the events in Syria is, again, a regime more pliant than the current one.
They are the people who insinuated themselves into the Kurdish north of Iraq over the last two decades, supporting the duopoly of clan power there which has repressed its own echos of the Arab revolutionary wave.
But we are not where we were 20 years ago at the end of the Gulf war. What we have seen over the last 10 years is not the extension of US power in theMiddle East but its limits. That can be seen in how it is that the West must present its old policies of regime change and humanitarian interventionism.
These are adaptions to, and attempts to corral, something which was not manufactured in the US State Department.
The genuine upsurges in Tunisia and Egypt, and their reflexes elsewhere.
So it is a very dangerous game. The politicians know that Western public opinion, not to mention overstretched militaries, will not at this moment stomach yet another full-scale occupation.
They must rely on the conflicted forces that now seek to take charge. They must do so as the earthquake that began in Tunisia still resonates around the region.
Those who say that process is simply at an end simultaneously exaggerated the pace of events and also underestimated their profundity.
The wave of change in the Middle East and north Africa was never simply going to sweep all before it and produce in a few months the most progressive of changes from the Atlantic coast of north Africa to the Persian Gulf.
That it hasn’t done so should come as no surprise.
Big changes, revolutionary waves, don’t work like that, especially in a region in which the imperialist powers have invested so much and have so much at stake.
To paraphrase Lenin, in such epochs there are revolutions, but there are also wars – civil and between states.
This process is continuing, though with the Western powers having found their footing, insecurely.
In Egypt even the transitional military government has had to respond to Israel’s attack on its personnel at the Rafah crossing in a way that Mubarak never would.
In Yemen the Saudis’ fix is fracturing the society more deeply. The West knows now what it would like in Syria, but whether it can get it is another matter.
This places a great responsibility on those of us in the West. It was easy to cheer on the heroes of Tahrir Square at the beginning of the year and to revel in the discomfort of both the local potentates and their Western backers. Now it is not so easy.
Cameron and Sarkozy in particular, facing domestically another spiral downwards into economic depression, will seek to use the fall of Gadaffi, as we knew they would, to turbo-charge the intervention machine.
Whatever limits they may face militarily and from the people of the Middle East, we need to ensure that Cameron feels an immediate constraint – that British public opinion rejects that militarist drive.
That’s not an easy task. The collapse of so many into agnosticism or worse about this latest adventure is sobering. But it is not an impossible one.
On both sides of the Atlantic this war was not popular with the mass of people, the people who are now facing the savage austerity that even leading finance houses are saying is choking off demand and making a second recession more likely.
The war in Afghanistan, approaching its 10th anniversary, continues to drain blood and treasure.
If anyone doubted the sophistication of the insurgent forces there, they should recall that the recent attack on the British Council in the heart of Kabul was timed to mark the day in 1919 when the British were last forced to leave Afghanistan.
Maintaining and extending the core message of the anti-war movement through new means and old is vital.
There is another issue too – Palestine.
It is the central issue of injustice in the Middle East in its own right. It is also the litmus test for whether those claiming to stand for progress in the region truly do or whether they are modern-day versions of Lampedusa’s character Tancredi in the Leopard: “For things to stay the same, everything must change.”
Hillary Clinton could nauseatingly go to Tahrir Square and claim to be intoxicated by the air of freedom. The air over Gaza is thick with cordite.
Cameron talks of the free movement of people in Libya. The apartheid wall on the West Bank is uprooting the people from their land.
The biggest things that those of us in the West can do to help the genuine movement for change in the Middle East are to stand foursquare against our government’s attempts to derail them and to raise high the banner of Palestine.
The process unleashed by the fall of Mubarak will go on for many years, with ebbs and flows.
The movement against imperialist intervention and for the Palestinian people remains a duty for all progressives in this land of Balfour and of Viscount Blair of BP.