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Analysis: Ad-Libbing on Libya, Rethinking Realism

All those who for practical or pecuniary reasons backed Qaddafi are furiously backpedalling.
By Dr. Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 2/21/2011, 3:59 PM / Last Update: 2/22/2011, 7:21 AM

 

The 1973 French movie, Les Aventures  De Rabbi Jacob or its English title, The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, concludes with a hilarious scene (to top off the numerous hilarious scenes in the movie): During the movie a North African opposition leader Larbi Slimane is targeted for liquidation by the government of his country. His would-be executioners, led by Colonel Fares, are free to move about France unmolested. However, at the end of the movie, reports arrive in Paris about a successful revolution that catapults the erstwhile fugitive into the post of his country's president. French protocol then mobilizes the full cavalry honor guard to display France's respect and friendship for the new president.

The farce has become a reality in the wake of the successive revolutions in the Near East, as governments scurry to shake off their association with the old and align themselves with the new. When things remain unpredictable, bets are hedged.

British Prime Minister David Cameron made it to Cairo yesterday, leapfrogging all other Western leaders to lend his support for democracy. Britain finds itself greatly embarrassed by the events in Libya, having engaged in sordid deals with Qaddafi in order to lay the ground for lucrative contracts in that country. Everybody in Britain is scandalized.

Nile Gardiner, writing in the Telegraph, assails the Libyan British business Council established in 2004, the year Qaddafi was readmitted into the West's good graces, including "some of Britain’s biggest companies, such as BP, GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, Shell, and Standard Chartered." All these firms," warns Gardiner, "should halt investments and dealings in Libya until Gaddafi’s murderous regime has gone, and the Libyan people are free."

The Daily Mail pipes up with the "Libyan massacre that should shame Blair". Tony Blair is a very useful scapegoat for British policy today.  He is unloved by the ruling Conservatives and Liberals, while the Labour Party, that won three election victories under his leadership, has disowned him and the New Labour that he marketed.

Louis Susman, the American ambassador to Britain, declined to advise Britain on Libya, but nevertheless said "I would suggest that the deal with him, to give him greater stature, greater ability on the world front, to look like he is a good citizen is a mistake."

Britain's previous dealings in Libya were defended by Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke, who told the BBC: "I don't think we've made a mistake in having investment there," as well as by Foreign Minister William Hague. Hague however was quick to revoke 8 arms licenses for Libya. although Britain in 2008 and 2009 had already trained the Libyan police and provided them with crowd control ammunition and tear gas.

Italy is another country that had extensive involvement in Qaddafi's Libya. It was the Italian state- owned oil company ENI that moved in to Libya when Qaddafi nationalized its rivals.  The company, prior to the events planned to invest as much as 25 billion in Libya. Other extensive Italian ventures in Libya included building, aerospace and banking.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has hosted Qaddafi on numerous visits to Italy, has remained silent during the current events, but his Foreign Minister Franco Frattini lobbied the United States, requesting that Qaddafi's constitutional reforms be given a chance.

The Italian Foreign Minister also called attention to the fact that insurgents in Benghazi, Libya had proclaimed it the Islamic Emirate of Benghazi. “Would you imagine to have an Islamic Arab emirate at the borders of Europe?” Frattini said. “This would be a really serious threat.”

The EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels yesterday could not agree on a policy, save that of doing nothing. "it's not our job to change the leader of Libya," said Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg was refreshingly candid: "it's no use for anyone if we intervene there loudly, just to prove our own importance."

What did emerge from the European meeting was pressure by those EU members bordering on the Mediterranean to shift the organization' aid from Eastern Europe to North Africa and give the new countries the benefit of Europe's experience in their transitions to democracy. Hopefully, this will be welcomed by the new rulers. If successful, it may limit the emigration waves from North Africa to Europe.

It would be historically unjust to single out  Britain and Italy  for dealings with Qaddafi. There is plenty of blame to go around. Maybe Ronald Reagan, who called Qaddafi a mad dog, escapes with his reputation intact; most others do not. The dealings with Qaddafi were fully consonant with the philosophy of realism and engagement advocated by representatives of the right and the left. During the 1990s the Japanese and the Europeans demonstratively balked at American sanctions on Libya.

In 2001, Professor Stephen Zunes of the University of San Francisco, who recently condemned Israel's takeover of the Turkish flotilla, pleaded for greater balance on Libya.  In an article in Foreign Policy in Focus, he wrote: "Under Qadaffi's rule, Libya has made impressive gains in health care, education, housing, women's rights, and basic social services. His brand of Islamic socialism… Has made Libya one of the more prosperous and egalitarian societies in the developing world… A decentralized political system has allowed for democracy and popular participation in some political activities."

The intellectual mouthpiece of the labor left, the New Statesman, carried frequent articles about Libya and particularly praised Qaddafi for maintaining the country's natural beauty "where sheep grazed by the water's edge and where green grass still runs down to the sea."

Professor Anthony Giddens, who inspired many center-left politicians, from Blair to Ehud Barak,, wrote in the New Statesman on his visit to Qaddafi in 2006 in order to see if Qaddafi's Arab socialism could somehow be reconciled with Giddens' 3rd way.  

Giddens was heartened by the circle of Libyan modernizers working with Qaddafi's son Saif (the same Saif who appeared yesterday to threaten the protesters with blood and mayhem), who had been meeting to draw up a new constitution.

Berlusconi's center-right government coddled Qaddafi, but this was also the policy of the previous center-left government that offered Qaddafi a transnational highway as expiation for Italy's colonial rule in Libya.

Finally, we must never lose sight of the fact that if Western countries dealt with Qaddafi for reasons of expediency, his true friends were  people like Hugo Chavez , who hosted the Libyan tyrant in 2009.  In a joint appearance with Qaddafi, Chavez announced "we are writing new pages of history, we are here to change history, and create a new socialism, a new world,"

That world is crumbling today and Qaddafi's former friends are attempting to dodge the fallout.