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What Gives, Muammar?

On a purely aesthetic basis, Libyan Leader Muammar Qaddafi is one of the world’s most intriguing heads of state. The fame of his female corps of Chanel-clad bodyguards is growing to near-mythical proportions (there was even a documentary on the subject made last year). He gave Americans the perfect enemy in the 1980s and early 1990s; without the Libyans mad thirst for plutonium, we would never have had Back to the Future, or Charlie Sheens epic opus, Navy Seals. His Green Book is mandatory reading for seventeen year old Universal Socialists (although its apparently out of print at Amazon.com).

Since the late 1990s, however, Qaddafi has been taking a softer line when dealing with the west; he first sent representatives to speak with the Clinton Administration in 1998, and agreed to abandon his WMD programs in late 2003.

The Bush Administration has held up the Libyans as an example of its diplomatic (as opposed to destructive) foreign policy success. The relationship has changed so dramatically, in fact, that Under Secretary of State William Burns floated the idea of normalizing relations with Libya in a recent House International Relations Committee hearing, and wasn't tossed out.

But it looks like it's not going to be that easy. Like boys will be boys, Muammar will be Muammar; a number of issues have been sticking in the proverbial craw of US-Libyan relations, including the Qaddafi's recent comments at the Arab League summit, Libya's continued detainment of four Bulgarian nurses, as well as its involvement in terrorism both past and present.

Qaddafi made some people angry yesterday with some off-the-cuff remarks at the Arab League Summit in Algiers. At least we can say he was an equal-opportunity offender:

Libyan leader Muammer Qaddafi has called Israelis and Palestinians "idiots" and described the United Nations (UN) Security Council a "terrorist organization"'.

He said that he cannot recognize neither the state of Israel nor the state of Palestine. "Don't be mad at me, Mr. Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), but both Palestinians and Israelis are idiots," he continued...Qaddafi suggested "establishing a single state" as the only solution.

Earlier in the week, Qaddafi made waves when he swore that he would not release four Bulgarian nurses charged with infecting scores of Libyan babies with HIV (The case is not cut and dry by any means; the US has pressured Libya to release the nurses to Bulgarian custody. It should also be noted that Tripoli retracted Qaddafi's statement the next day, arguing that his speech had been poorly translated.)

News of an assassination plot against Saudi Crown Price Abdullah came to light last year, and investigations are ongoing as to Libya's involvement. The results of those investigations, as well as Libya's willingness to cooperate, may well determine the direction of the bilateral relationship until the end of the decade (Libya's settlement of the Lockerbie bombing case last year has been pointed to as an example of Qaddafi's renunciation of terror--but because the escrow account used to pay the plaintiffs has lapsed, it is possible the situation may not be over yet).

So the question is, of course, what's going on? Is Libya a success or, or is it just a fluke--or perhaps Qaddafi is stringing along the rest of the world for his own amusement. If Qaddafi was trying to integrate into the world economy, wouldn't he watch his tongue (and assassins) considering the billions in oil development contracts on the line? The answer may be as simple as a slightly-revised version of the old adage: You can take the autocratic leader of a rogue desert regime out of crazy, but you can't take the crazy out of the autocratic leader of a rogue desert regime. Or something like that.

Posted by schtaple at March 24, 2005 3:03 PM