Top: Victorie Pisa from Japan, ridden by Mirco Demuro, middle, crosses the finish line of $ 10,000,000 Dubai World Cup race, the world’s richest horse race, followed by 2nd place Transcend , right, from Japan and 3rd place Monterosso from Great Britain, 2nd right. (The Associated Press); bottom:Libyan rebels on top of a captured tank

As I write this, the media are reporting major advances of the Libyan resistance to Qaddafi, supported in large part by the surgical air strikes of the U.S. and NATO aircraft. Qaddafi has bunkered down, vowing to fight until his last drop of blood, but as the race to Tripoli proceeds, more and more defections from his military are inevitable. It is hard to predict when this will end. In general I think most ruthless dictators are cowards at heart, which is why they need such massive security to perpetuate their narcissistic hold on power. But Qaddafi is deluded enough to go down with guns blazing, like Errol Flynn in Custer’s Last Stand.

Debate over the wisdom of U.S. involvement in the Libyan no-fly-plus zone has reached a level of feverish political overtones. Obama’s opponents, those lock-step GOP stalwarts who never challenged Bush when we foolishly entered into a ground war in Iraq, now seem concerned about the costs of tomahawk missiles (I suspect those senators with large arms manufacturers in their home states are biting their tongues as they speak). Winging it, a la Bush, is the American way in their mind and damn what any other civilized nation thinks. Actually forging a coalition with U.N. and some Arab country backing is heralded as weakness. Much of the debate swirling between the talking security expert heads is really an end-around around the end-game criticism.

What if Qaddafi survives? What if we create a never-ending civil war like Afghanistan? What if? These are, of course, the common complaints from a party out of power and lusting to get back into power. What if, with the air support, Qaddafi is prevented from his mass slaughter of those against him (and the vast majority of Libyans from all walks of life are sick and tired of this madman and want him out) and the Libyans are able to overthrow his dictatorial nightmare and create a free Libya able to twitter into the future alongside their brethren in Tunisia, Egypt and wherever the regime changes next? Representative John Boehner, from the district I grew up in, seems to actually believe the rantings of Qaddafi in a way he never took seriously Saddam Hussein’s bluff. The GOP presidential hopefuls, from Mitt to the Newt, show their superficial political colors, not their patriotic concerns, in using this critical engagement merely for election punching. There is a danger here, because if the operation does end quickly with a regime change engineered by the people, it will be hard to say it was all a mistake. Nothing succeeds like success: a principle to keep in mind with more than a year to go before the next election.

But the race to Tripoli is not the only race in the amalgam that gets lumped together as the “Middle East” or “Arab World.” Consider the race being sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of the emirate of Dubai. This is the world’s richest race, a 10 million dollar Dubai World Cup. If you missed it, with all the less important news about protests and deaths in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, etc. and the ongoing nuclear contamination in Japan, it happened Saturday. And in rather dramatic global irony, the winner of the race was a Japanese horse named Victoire Pisa.

Here is a blurb from the official website for the cup: “Perhaps part of the Dubai World Cup’s success is not only due to the state-of-the-art race track, but the burgeoning status of Dubai as an international crossroads and global transport hub, and of course a first-class tourist destination, evidenced by more than 50,000 racegoers attending the Dubai World Cup meeting each year.” The best race horses in the world and nary a drop of Kentucky whiskey in sight (I have no knowledge what might have been drunk out of sight). A huge purse for a horse race, not to mention the betting that went on when no one actually knew the end-game before it was over.

Two races that could not be more different. Only one was predicted a year ago. It is harder to get richer than Dubai and quite easy to be poorer in Libya (unless your name is Qaddafi). Note the two different approaches in oil-rich countries. Dubai is part of a sheikhdom where the local inhabitants have greatly benefited from an open door policy. Anyone who has ever flown through Dubai Airport can be forgiven for forgetting they are in a part of what used to be called the “Orient.” Libya, on the other hand, was a fiefdom where brotherhood was preached and outright hooliganism was practiced. Both leaders are wealthy, but Qaddafi’s riches come not only from oil revenues but are extracted from the blood of his people.

If the current protests continue, no matter how many more regimes change, a new age is dawning for this part of the world. Life-long and life-taking dictators are no longer welcome, not will they automatically be shored up by super power rivalry. Even the ongoing War on Terror will not suffice as a reason to keep some brutal villain in power because he is “our” bastard. The grievances are not new, but the frustration level has fueled a tsunami of activism that no one, and I mean no one, saw coming.

The Dubai World Cup race is over and another will occur next year for those with enough income to attend. The race to Tripoli is much longer and more arduous, but it will surely end with the removal of Qaddafi, whether he leaves with cash stuffed in his suitcase for some haven that will welcome him or if the rebels are able to do to him what he has done to the Libyan people for far too many years.

Daniel Martin Varisco