Condi Writes To The Colonel
Democracy is forgotten
as the US 'war on terror' brings Libya's Muammar Gadafy back in from the cold.
Condi writes to the colonel
By: Ian Black
May 17, 2006
Britain made its peace with Libya two years ago, with Tony Blair paying the obligatory social call on Muammar Gadafy in his trademark bedouin tent and oil companies rushing to cash in.
Other European leaders and energy giants have followed the same desert route. But this week's restoration of diplomatic ties between Washington and Tripoli marks the colonel's final return from the cold - and yet another departure from George Bush's faltering crusade to bring democracy to the Middle East.
Condi Rice's announcement was no surprise. Libya has been on the way back to what passes for international respectability since surrendering its rusting weapons of mass destruction in 2003. But Gadafy has been trying to get to this point for a decade.
He started by spilling the beans on the weapons he supplied to the IRA. In 1999, thanks to deft lobbying by Nelson Mandela, he handed over the Lockerbie bombing suspects. That paved the way for the lifting of UN and bilateral sanctions. And then he gave up terrorism, sending the Palestinian renegade Abu Nidal to Baghdad when Saddam Hussein inherited the mantle of pariahdom the colonel had worn for so long. #
So the man famously dubbed "the mad dog of the Middle East" by Ronald Reagan is now the beneficiary of a US that is desperate for friends in the Arab world and under commercial pressure to free up access to Libya's huge oil reserves, but above all putting security and the "war against terror" above the rhetoric about democracy and freedom that it has been using as a justification for the Iraqi war.
Gadafy understood that if he initiated policy changes he could avoid regime change. That explains his extraordinary cooperation over Lockerbie even though the evidence showed complicity at the highest level in the December 1988 downing of Pan Am flight 103 and the murder of 270 people. His calculation was that the two intelligence officers charged were small fry who could be sacrificed. Only one, Abdel-Baset el-Megrahi, was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison. The other man was found not guilty.
The precise motive for Lockerbie has never been established. But the most likely was retaliation for the US air raid on Libya two years earlier, which was in itself retaliation for the bombing by Libyan agents of a Berlin nightclub frequented by US servicemen. Gadafy himself gave a broad hint when he punningly referred to the American attack, facilitated by Margaret Thatcher's agreement to allow the use of US bases in Britain, as "Locker A" that was followed by "Locker B".
Lockerbie watchers still argue hotly about the outcome of the trial, held under Scottish law in the Netherlands, raising questions about both evidence and procedure. Megrahi is appealing against his sentence and the crown is simultaneously seeking a longer jail term. It is not in dispute, however, that Gadafy accepted responsibility for the crime - though bizarrely some diehards still claim he wasn't involved.
The US decision to remove Libya from its list of countries supporting terrorism means he will now pay out millions of dollars in compensation to relatives of the Lockerbie dead.
For the US, there are several issues here. One is that given the disaster in Iraq, Bush needs as many friends as he can find anywhere, including the Arab world. Another is the looming crisis over Iran's nuclear weapons. Rice said explicitly that Libya's surrender of its WMD arsenal could serve as a model for Iran and North Korea - an argument that is unlikely to convince Tehran or Pyongyang. A third factor is the rush to invest in Libyan oil.
None of this is because Libya has become a much freer or more democratic country. Gadafy is still the unchallenged leader, though his son Seif plays an increasingly important role in the dynastic fashion familiar from Egypt and Syria. Human Rights Watch has been allowed to visit and some political prisoners have been released, but it is still a highly repressive regime, as Libyan exiles abroad are quick to point out.
Less obviously, Libya has become an important ally in the US "war on terror" and was even praised publicly by Rice for its "excellent cooperation" Gadafy's worst domestic enemies have long been Islamists, some of them allegedly recruited by Britain's MI6 to assassinate him in the 1990s. Libya has also been involved in the"extraordinary rendition" of terrorist suspects. The irony here is that the colonel's security chiefs at the time of Lockerbie are still in the same jobs today - and presumably now managing his special relationship with the CIA. It would be fascinating to know what Abdel-Baset al-Megrahi, contemplating many more years in a Scottish prison cell, makes of all this.