"The cruel man troubles his own flesh" (Proverbs 11:17)
The thing that seems to have made the wheels start coming off was when Qaddafi's security forces started answering protests in Benghazi with machine gun fire. Most of the armed forces in town went over to the people, and after several hundred people were killed, Benghazi was in the hands of the people, supported by the army.
As Juan Cole pointed out, Qaddafi here is following the example of Mussolini and his colonial governor in 1930, Rodolfo Graziani, who put 80,000 Libyans in concentration camps, where more than half died, and by 1943 had driven out or killed half the population.
Qaddafi figured that cruelty would work, but the result was that his justice minister, his interior minister, almost all of his diplomatic corps, and most of the armed forces have turned against him.
That's the very purifying moral of what we've been seeing lately. The end of Zine al-Abeddine Ben Ali began when his cops robbed an unemployed vegetable seller of his cart and then laughed at him when he went to complain about it, so that he set himself on fire, and what finished him was when his special security forces deliberately killed people in Kasserine. Four days later, the army had put Mr Ben Ali on a plane.
What finished Mubarak was sending his pony riders and camel jockeys to beat people up, since he didn't dare to try to use the army, thus making clear to everyone his thuggishness and total lack of class - and so he lost the mandate of heaven.
The Americans came to grief in Iraq in great part because of their utter contempt for the lives of people there. You may be sure that it would not be thought fitting to fill the United States with depleted uranium dust to cause cancers and birth defects forever as they've done in Iraq - here in Chino Hills, Aero-Jet leaked a little depleted uranium in the woods and people got very excited indeed. Made them carefully clean it up, but do you think anything like that will ever happen in Iraq?
But this wanton cruelty and contempt for the lives of Iraqi people has brought Americans to grief in Iraq. They all thought it was a great idea to torture people all over the world, but America's torture gulag hasn't really been too helpful to American designs in the world lately, has it?
In Afghanistan, too, slaughtering civilians, destroying their homes and crops, and lying about it hasn't been working out too well. The latest - I could not have made this up - is that after American bombs and missiles had slaughtered 50-64 civilians in Kunar last week in the manner of Qaddafi, General David Petraeus told Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials in a meeting that the explanation for burned children is that the parents are burning them and then blaming it on the Americans to make them look bad.
This is not going over too well in Afghanistan. How cruel do you have to be to do such things in a country where you have no business to be in the first place? And how cruel and stupid do you have to be, when your bombs and missiles burn little kids, to actually suggest that the parents are burning their own kids as a propaganda stunt? Can anyone imagine American parents doing that? So how do they think of ascribing such deeds to Afghan parents, except that they consider them subhuman? Which seems to account for their willingness to do these crimes in the first place.
In all these examples and many more, we see that cruelty does terrorize people all right, but by the time we're done, those that do it have harmed themselves. Truly, the cruel man, so intent on solving his problems by doing to others what he does not want done to himself, brings his way down on his own head. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddafi, Bush, Obama, and Petraeus give us great examples not to follow.
So I'm learning from these teachers a new appreciation for the value of doing mercy, and thereby doing good to my own soul, instead of troubling my own flesh by being cruel.