Talisman Gate

Thursday, March 17, 2005

A Gadhafi Policy

Copyright 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
The New York Sun

March 17, 2005 Thursday


LENGTH: 1583 words

HEADLINE: A Gadhafi Policy

BYLINE: Nibras Kazimi


In 1971, Woody Allen made a movie called "Bananas." In one memorable scene, the chief of the San Marcos rebels seizes power and goes nuts, decreeing that all persons under 16 years of age are now 16, and that all citizens should wear their underwear on the outside and change into a cleaner pair every 30 minutes.

If ever life imitated this sort of bizarre art, then it would be in the person of Muammar Gadhafi, who seized power through a military coup as a Signals First Lieutenant two years before "Bananas" was made, and progressively became a crazy person. Gadhafi is the kind of nut that other patients in any mental asylum would refer to as "that crazy one."

Over-the-top eccentricity may have some charm: It is quite quaint to read through Gadhafi's official Web site and browse his myriad solutions for global conflicts. Gadhafi, who often appears in public festooned in colorful flowing robes and flanked by an all-female brigade of bodyguards, is big on Korean reunification and Kashmiri independence. He admonishes the Kurds for not seeking full independence, and is an ardent supporter of a one-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the establishment of a country he calls Israphine.

A week ago, Gadhafi took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post to argue against expanding the United Nations Security Council and for diluting its powers vis-a-vis the General Assembly. Clearly, he has a lot of time on his hands and a lot of money to dole out. Oil, discovered in large quantities in the 1960s, allows Libya to export about 1.5 million barrels daily and empowers Gadhafi to be a bit of an eccentric philanthropist; you may find a Gadhafi Cricket Stadium in Lahore, Pakistan, or plenty of available funds for one of his sons to pursue a career in soccer by buying up large chunks of established European soccer teams.

Oh, by the way, Gadhafi also uses what should be the wealth of the Libyan people to finance civil war and genocide in West Africa. Some loose change is also set aside to wage personal vendettas against Arab leaders like hiring assassins to rub out Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdallah, who Gadhafi had a verbal altercation with a couple of years ago.

And this is just the stuff he has been up to recently in the last decade since his previous career in funding worldwide terrorism came to the fore with the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people including 178 Americans. But Gadhafi has used his moneybags to absolve himself of past sins; paying off $10 million to each of the victims' families in 2003 and basically getting off the hook with a tepid apology note attached. By this analogy, when Osama bin Laden is ruling Saudi Arabia in the year 2016, he can pay off the victims of September 11, hand over a couple of flunkies for prosecution according to terms set by himself, and become internationally respectable with a "sorry, my bad" afterthought.

It seems American foreign policy since the Reagan administration toward Libya's Gadhafi is as crazy as Gadhafi himself.

President Reagan understood that there may be something amiss about allowing a man like Gadhafi to rule 6 million people and run amok in global affairs with plenty of petrodollars and a Stasi-trained intelligence service. There is even some evidence that the Reagan administration, in desperation, enlisted Saddam's help in trying to overthrow Gadhafi. Since then, however, regime change has not been American policy toward Libya, and its people, bereft of their Great Leader's largesse and living in miserable poverty and under brutal oppression, have footed the moral and economic bill.

Libya, geographically, is also a bit schizophrenic. Successive civilizations treated its major cities along the Mediterranean coast as places to get a good night's sleep on route to Phoenician and later Roman power centers in modern Tunisia's Carthage, or Greek and later Roman states in ancient Egypt. Libya was situated smack in the middle of a no-man's land of geography and civilization; to the east, the Middle East, and to the west, the Maghreb of northwest Africa. Inland, the terrain dissipates into the vastness of the African Sahara. The Arab Muslim conquest swept through the mostly flat stretch of arid sand toward more meaty conquests in Spain, and in its wake, Arabized the ethnic Amazig (commonly known as Berber) tribes that did not have the insular mountain redoubts of their kinsmen in the Atlas Mountains to the west.

In later eras, Libya became the home of the unwanted: rebels, embattled sects, pirates, and minor Arab tribes escaping the Arabian Peninsula but not strong enough to dislodge earlier migrants in better pastures elsewhere in the Muslim world. During the time of European colonialism and the gradual carving-up of an ailing Ottoman Empire, nobody would take Libya except the late-coming Italians.

At the geographical midpoint of this land, you would find the dust-blown coastal town of Sirt, and it was here, during the last year of Italy's rule preceding its loss of Libya during World War II, that Muammar, son of Mohammed Bou-Minyar Al-Gadhafi, was born. It seems that his ancestors had made their way to Libya some three centuries ago from southern Iraq, and for that, as an Iraqi, I apologize to the world.

A lot of nonsense has been written about Gadhafi's formative years and how regional and international politics produced this zany outcome of a man. I believe the key to understanding his mania lies in his young life as a child helper to his dad, who used to be the oft-humiliated servant in the household of a particularly harsh tribal chief named Ahmed Saif Al-Nasr. One of the first things Gadhafi did when he got to power was put the elderly Saif Al-Nasr in jail and demolish his house. Interestingly, the last paragraph of the last section in Gadhafi's "Green Book," which is the convoluted polemic arguing for his Third Universal Theory and his brand of Libyan utopia, annuls domestic servitude and makes the hiring of maids punishable by law.

This man, abused as a child and growing up with a deep sense of insecurity, has other interesting laws on the books, such as the Extended Punishment Law of 1997, where the families and friends of political dissidents must also answer for individual "crimes" against the state and suffer the ghastly consequences, like severe torture and public hangings.

This is the crazy Great Leader that the United States government has recently helped to remove international sanctions from and re-extend international recognition to. Top State Department officials have, in recent years, been his welcome guests. So have European leaders such as Berlusconi, Schroeder, and Blair. Libyan embassies, centers during most of the 1970s and '80s for funding and orchestrating world terrorism, are back in business. America was not even serious about denying Libya the ridiculous opportunity to chair the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2003.

America's policy toward Libya is a vestige of the defunct and bankrupt "realist" foreign policy of the Republican Party, a wing personified by James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. While President Bush embraces democracy and freedom for the Middle East, American oil companies and their "realist" foreign policy strategists are tailoring their vision of a future Libya around Gadhafi's progeny, who they expect to rule that country for several generations to come.

They argue that this split-personality policy is justified by Gadhafi's turnaround on his weapons of mass destruction programs right after the liberation of Iraq and Saddam's downfall. Handing over his evil toys is enough to allow him to re-enter the playground of world affairs. All this happened under the watch of State's John Bolton, who is now slated to become the American ambassador to the U.N., the same organization Gadhafi seeks to reform.

Robert Novak, in a recent column, did a marvelous job in reassuring Washington that Mr. Bolton is a conservative, not a neoconservative. Thank you, Mr. Novak, for I'd hate to think that a real neocon would so foolishly reward a tyrant like Gadhafi when everyone should know better. Mr. Bolton is up for confirmation by the Senate, and the grilling task would fall to Senator Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee, who is uncharacteristically right on supporting democracy in Libya.

Mr. Biden should ask Mr. Bolton if he is going to bring up the case of American green-card holder and Libyan dissident Mansour R. Al-Kikhia, abducted in Egypt by Libyan intelligence in 1993, when, and if, he gets the top American job at the U.N. And since everyone is scrambling for ways to win over Lebanon's Shias, Mr. Biden should also ask if there is ever going to be an international investigation into the disappearance in 1978 in Libya of Lebanese Shia leader Musa Al-Sadr, who as a result of an argument with Gadhafi, became one of the latter's many victims.

Allowing a murderous freak a seat among world leaders is a stupid and immoral course for America. Reactivating Reagan's policy of regime change would be more in the spirit of what the freedom-loving people of the Middle East have come to expect, and hope for, from the Bush administration. One measure of last resort would be to send in the Marines, who did a fine job 200 years ago when they defeated the pirates of Tripoli, modern Libya's capital. After Gadhafi is captured, maybe Woody Allen will be able to find a role for him.