The caravan loaded with arms inspectors, diplomats and oil executives is well on its way to Libya. Gadafi’s announcement that he will allow unfettered access to arms inspectors to find and destroy his arms of mass destruction is met with much fanfare and jubilation, especially in London and Washington. Prime Minister Tony Blair declares that Gadafi is “courageous.” President Bush comments that, this could lead to better relations with the United States and other free nations.
So what is my problem with this celebration? After all, Gadafi settled with the Lockerbie victims. He is renouncing terrorism, cooperating with British and U.S. intelligence and inviting the oil executives to reclaim their old concessions. Indeed, he seems quite amenable to any hints or needs from Washington or London. It seems that the policy of containment is working and bringing Gadafi to his senses. As a matter of fact, it looks like a great success since all of this is being accomplished without military intervention or loss of life.
No doubt about it -- destroying Gadafi’s weapons of mass destruction is a great accomplishment. These weapons were never used to protect the Libyan people or the sovereignty of Libya. They were mainly used to terrorize the population and keep his grip on power.
My problem is that this caravan is missing one rider -- the Libyan people. Their voice has not been heard since Gadafi took power more than three decades ago. All the official and unofficial statements that I have heard in the last two years have been about weapons of mass destruction and oil. Well, What about democracy, human rights and the rule of law? What about the Libyan people?
Gadafi took a peaceful and relatively prosperous country and changed it to a poor rogue nation. Libya has no constitution. There is no freedom of press or expression; all forms of dissent are immediately suppressed. Gadafi hanged students in public squares simply for demonstrating for the right to have an independent student union. He sent his agents to assassinate dissidents and exiles overseas and recently his agents opened fire on political prisoners in Abu Saleem prison, killing more than 1,250 men. Gadafi has waged war on all of his neighbors. Thousands of military personnel and civilians perished in his war in Chad; many are still unaccounted for. The Libyan economy is in shambles. Since Gadafi took power more than $300 billion in oil revenues are unaccounted for.
Libya has no credible budget and no accountability; its books are closed. Gadafi has publicly declared, “Two things don’t ask me about – my kids and the oil revenue.”
Some people might argue that this is not U.S. problem. And to some extent they are right. Most of the problems and challenges that face the region are of its own making. Most of these nations are stuck between the past and the inability to accept changes and move ahead to the future. However, like it or not, the U.S. is along for the ride. The United States is involved militarily, politically and economically in the region. The declared U.S. policy in the Arab world today is that the fall of Saddam Hussein opened new opportunities and a new era of the U.S. relations to the region. The inability to find weapons of mass destruction aside, the U.S. is projecting its diplomacy and military power by taking the high moral ground of saying the only reason that they are in the region is to plant the seed of democracy. The U.S. is telling the Arab world, we are not here as a colonial power, we are not here because of your oil, we are here because we’ve learned a lesson from the last sixty years. As President Bush formerly stated, “Sixty years of western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe.” The lesson is that the only way of safeguarding U.S. strategic interests in the long run is by having stable and representative regimes in the Arab World.
How can one reconcile the advocacy of democracy in the region when at the same time embrace Gadafi? Are we suddenly to revert to the old doctrine of cold war?
That doctrine which can simply be paraphrased as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". That doctrine led consecutive U.S. administrations to embrace a collection of military men and dictators around the world. They received U.S. support for one single reason -- they were fighting communism. It didn’t matter what these dictators did domestically. It was hard to argue for that policy then and it is even harder to argue for it today in the Middle East. If applied today this policy will fail, because today’s foe is not well defined as was the case in the cold war. Today’s enemy is within. It is these same regimes that litter the Arab map that breeds poverty, discontent, disappointments and radical ideology that leads these young men to see no way out except destruction.
How the U.S. deals with Gaddafi is a test case of the new U.S. policy in the region. Will the U.S. go for a policy of convenience, maximizing short-term returns at the expense of long-term stability? Or will the U.S. hold Gadafi’s feet to the fire and demand fundamental change by insisting that he at least implement the beginning steps of the process of democratization in Libya? By demanding these reforms from Gadafi, the U.S. would ally its interest with that of the Libyan people and this road map would be a lot simpler to implement.
Libya is a small country with natural wealth, no history of religious or ethnic strife, and semi-stable countries bordering its east and west. Her people are yearning for a stable, civil and democratic society. It even experimented with democracy. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s Libya had a constitution, elected parliament, and a semi-represented
government. The Libyan people do not need the U.S.’ money or soldiers. They need its diplomacy and its advocacy of democracy.
The United States must show an honest and sincere attempt to bring the people of Libya back into the dialogue from which they have long been absent. By doing so it will send a clear message that indeed that the U.S. means what it says. And this will be a showcase of how the U.S. policy can succeed in the region.
I am reminded of the time when Clinton was running for election for the presidency and his campaign came up with a slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Well, we are close to another election campaign, and even though domestically it will always be, “It’s the economy, stupid,” for U.S. policy in the Middle East, it should be, “It is democracy, stupid.”
I teach my students that companies that thrive and prosper are the ones that take the long view of their offering and customers. Good management is the one that takes the tough decisions by investing in the long run. I tell them that these are the companies that they want to invest in. I also tell them not to invest in fly-by night companies. Like millions of Arab reformers, I am waiting to see what company this administration is building before I invest my money.