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a time for fear
Tuesday, January 06, 2004  
Quaddafi Cakes

A couple of funny/fucked things about the recent Quaddafi move to give up WMD programmes.

It was an empty gesture, in this sense: Libya's weapon stocks are negligible, a threat to nobody but the Quaddafi regime itself, vulnerable to sanctions or, in the worst case, US/UN military action (as remote as this final option seems). The gesture was empty, but satisfied both parties. Quaddafi is given the potential transition of Libya from an increasingly untenable and isolated terrorist state to a more securely integrated (if minor) "global" power (in the sense that diplomatic relations can resume almost across the board). Quaddafi can claim some security in his alliance with the West in the War on Terror, a cause and coalition he is keen on because it affords protection from and promotes offensive action against his regime's most actively dangerous enemy: radical Islamists (more on this below). Quaddafi's Libya has long been unpopular in the Middle East, and also despised by Wahhabi fundamentalists. The US and the UK, for their part, welcome Quaddafi's pledge not least because it serves their case for pre-emptive action and the legitimacy of the Iraq war. For the coalition, the timing of Quaddafi's television announcement was perfect: days after the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the day after a similar pledge by Iran's mullahs to open their nuclear programme to international inspectors.

So even though Quaddafi is essentially "on side" in the War on Terror, his past status as International Terrorism Sponsor and unelected dictator of a rogue state that sought to develop WMD (with little success, but it's the thought that counts) shoves him in the same bracket as countries like Iraq, Iran, Syria - countries Quaddafi has actively distanced himself from for years, and countries who actively distanced themselves from Quaddafi years before that. The glaring anomaly of Libya's position in the Middle East is made clear by Islamic fundamentalism and related terror networks, supported in different measure at different times by Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria etc. and fought by Libya's one effective ally since Quaddafi's September Revolution in 1969, the Soviet Union (an alliance abandoned by the Soviets due to their alarm at Quaddafi's erratic behavior).

Despite the fact that Quaddafi's was an Arab-Islamic revolution, its ideological emphasis was socialism, nationalisation, "freedom of the individual" and Arabic Unity. For the Quaddafi regime religion was never a driving force. Quaddafi was a legitimate target for Islamists and therefore Islamist insurgency became his greatest threat. In the early 1990s, Libyan veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan formed al-Muqatila, a terrorist group backed financially by bin Laden and based in Sudan. In 1998 Quaddafi foiled an al-Muqatila plot to assassinate him. (A similar plot in 1996, devised in partnership with MI5, had to be abandoned, according to David Shayler). In April 1998, Quaddafi was the first person to ever submit an international arrest warrant for bin Laden.

By the end of 2001, Libya and MI5 were cooperating. The scale of this turnaround was indicated by the return of Musa Kousa (Quaddafi's head of external intelligence) to Britain. In 1979, Kousa had been de facto Libyan ambassador to Britain. His position did not, however, last long. In a Times interview, Kousa put on record Libya's support for the IRA, and the regime's intent to kill two Quaddafi opponents on British soil. Kousa's comments led to his expulsion from the UK. In September 2001, however, the global equilibrium tipped and spilt, and Libyan intelligence proved invaluable to the CIA and MI5. In October 2001, Kousa arrived back in the UK for the first time since 1979, this time carrying documents outlining details of Islamist cells and networks in the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Libya and the UK now had a mutual enemy and corresponding aims: effective negotiations began here.

This is how it used to be:

Khadafi's erratic behavior (to put the best possible gloss on it), his inordinate ambitions, and his rapidly changing alignments antagonized virtually everyone in the Arab world and isolated him from all but his most needy clients. Doubts were expressed concerning his mental state, not only in the West but also in the Arab and Third World capitals. Was he a madman in the clinical sense. or just highly emotional, inbalanced, and unpredictable? Khadafi even became an embarrassment to those closest to him in outlook.
(Walter Laqueur)

Quaddafi's elevation to International Statesman - announced, in effect, by Blair and Bush (Blair beating Bush to it by minutes) - is somewhat laughable, at least absurd, certainly more than a surprise. But that's International Relations! Shifting blocs of power and influence, supple and covert alliance. and don't be polite.

4:24 PM

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