Opinion

The Great Debate

Our disturbing relationship with Gaddafi

By Mark Ensalaco
August 23, 2011

By Mark Ensalaco
The opinions expressed are his own.

Thomas Jefferson once said ‚Äúrebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.‚ÄĚ

The Arab Spring is reminding the world that struggles for dignity, freedom, justice and human rights spring from our deepest aspirations as human beings. At the same time the dictatorial violence in Syria and Libya remind us of the evil that springs from the insatiable will to absolute power.

The repression in Syria has claimed more than 2,200 lives according to the United Nations. Thankfully, the bloodshed is coming to an end in Libya, but it must be remembered that in Libya, unlike Tunisia and Egypt, it took a bloody civil war and NATO intervention to destroy the decades-long tyranny of Muammar Gaddafi.

Events in Libya compel us to reflect on fundamental moral questions that are larger than geopolitics and the price of petroleum. But it is impossible to reflect on those moral questions without scrutinizing the compromising attitudes that stem from our acute concerns about national security and access to cheap oil.

In September 2004 the United States lifted economic sanctions leveled against the Gaddafi regime in response to its most egregious act of terror — the destruction of Pan 103 in December 1988. The Bush administration restored full diplomatic relations two years later. It is hard, looking at the bloodshed in Libya today, to reconcile the Bush administration‚Äôs rapprochement with Gaddafi with American values.

Pan Am 103 was not Gaddafi‚Äôs only act of terror: his intelligence service was behind the destruction of a TWA flight in 1974 and sponsored the Abu Nidal organizations acts of terrorism well into the 1980s — acts that included the slaughter of American children in airports in Vienna and Rome. President Reagan quite rightly called Gaddafi the ‚Äúmad dog of the Middle East‚ÄĚ.

The Bush administration cited Gaddafi‚Äôs shrewd decision to dismantle a crude nuclear weapons program and its payment of reparations to the families of the victims of Pan Am 103 to justify the opening of an American embassy in Tripoli. Neither of these empty gestures translated into a fundamental change in the nature of the Gaddafi tyranny. Gaddafi cunningly suspended the foreign terror operations but continued to terrorize the Libyan people with the confidence of a tyrant with a new lease on life. President Bush never openly condemned the repression in Libya, despite his lofty rhetoric about America’s commitment to democracy in the Middle East at the onset of the war in Iraq. The appeasement with Libya was always about petroleum, never about principle.

September 11 deepened the Bush administration’s disturbing relationship with Gaddafi. The administration secretly reached out to Libyan intelligence to cooperate in the global war on terrorism. In their memoirs, former CIA officials describe surreal meetings with Libyan intelligence chieftains whom they suspected of involvement in the destruction of Pan Am 103.

Libyan officials were only too pleased to identify, detain and torture Libyans who gravitated to Al Qaeda at the behest of the CIA. Perhaps the collaboration with Libyan intelligence seemed like a morally acceptable compromise after the slaughter of Americans on 9/11, but the secret partnership with Gaddafi served emboldened him in his secret campaign to ratchet up the repression in Libya.

If rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God, then surely compromise with tyrants smacks of a pact with the devil.

The challenge of reconciling U.S. economic and security interests with American values has always vexed Americans in high office. But Libya under Gaddafi was a simple case of moral and political discernment. The United States failed that test badly. America gained nothing of lasting value from its relationship with Gaddafi. It only bought a tyrant more time, and cost more Libyan lives.

Photo: A Libyan rebel fighter walks past graffiti depicting Muammar Gaddafi at a checkpoint near Yafran in western Libya August 5, 2011. REUTERS/Bob Strong

Comments
16 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

“It is hard, looking at the bloodshed in Libya today, to reconcile the Bush administration‚Äôs rapprochement with Gaddafi with American values.”

The U.S. has supported many brutal tyrants: Saddam Hussein, Augusto Pinochet, Hosni Mubarak, Doc Chevalier, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto, and Somoza just to name a few. Supporting Gaddafi falls into the category of normal U.S. geopolitics. Americans having been willing, decade after decade, to vote for leaders who have supported brutal dictators around the world. Where then is the conflict with American values? American values seem to include supporting dictators around the world whenever various geopolitical goals are at stake.

Posted by Evidence | Report as abusive
 

“It is hard, looking at the bloodshed in Libya today, to reconcile the Bush administration‚Äôs rapprochement with Gaddafi with American values.”

Unbelievable statement. Bush brought Gaddafi back into the international fold because Gaddafi renounced nuclear weapons. You think that’s insignificant?

NATO is a big reason for the bloodshed in Libya today. Talk to the current president if you have a problem with that.

And by the way, Gaddafi only dreamed of and talked about perpetrating the kind of violence against demonstrators that Syria’s Assad is actually doing. I don’t see America doing much about that, other than finger wagging.

Posted by SteveAplin | Report as abusive
 

Although Republicans in the US often pain themselves as foreign policy experts, their actions and policies are often bizzare. In the late 90′s, Newt Gingrich chastized the Clinton administration for trying to kill Osama Bin LAden w/ a cruise missile attack. The Bush administration officially praised the Taliban for helping to eradicate Afghanistan’s poppy crop about 6 months before the Sept 11 attacks. The whole Iraq war/weapons of mass destruction thing speaks for itself. Not long after that war started, the famous picture from Reagan era of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands w/ Sadaam Hussein made the rounds.

For the Bush administration, driven by a family so steeped in big oil, their crazy decisions all seemed to revolve around gaining access to oil fields, either through force or diplomacy.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain chastized Obama for saying it might be necessary to conduct military operations in Pakistan to reach Taliban militants, citing the wonderfully cooperative relationship the US had w/ Pakistan. I believe McCain even cast doubt on Pakistan’s previously democratically elected leaders and praised the military dictator running Pakistan at that time.

And with all of the military escapades of the Bush administration, when Obama announced limited US engagement in Lybia, the Republicans cried foul.

George Bush Sr. ran a smooth and reasonable campaign to force Iraq out of Kuwait in the early 90′s. That is the last time I can remember a Republican running anything like a sane, coherent foreign policy.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive
 

Although Republicans in the US often pain themselves as foreign policy experts, their actions and policies are often bizzare. In the late 90′s, Newt Gingrich chastized the Clinton administration for trying to kill Osama Bin LAden w/ a cruise missile attack. The Bush administration officially praised the Taliban for helping to eradicate Afghanistan’s poppy crop about 6 months before the Sept 11 attacks. The whole Iraq war/weapons of mass destruction thing speaks for itself. Not long after that war started, the famous picture from Reagan era of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands w/ Sadaam Hussein made the rounds.

For the Bush administration, driven by a family so steeped in big oil, their crazy decisions all seemed to revolve around gaining access to oil fields, either through force or diplomacy.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain chastized Obama for saying it might be necessary to conduct military operations in Pakistan to reach Taliban militants, citing the wonderfully cooperative relationship the US had w/ Pakistan. I believe McCain even cast doubt on Pakistan’s previously democratically elected leaders and praised the military dictator running Pakistan at that time.

And with all of the military escapades of the Bush administration, when Obama announced limited US engagement in Lybia, the Republicans cried foul.

George Bush Sr. ran a smooth and reasonable campaign to force Iraq out of Kuwait in the early 90′s. That is the last time I can remember a Republican running anything like a sane, coherent foreign policy.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive
 

“The Arab Spring is reminding the world that struggles for dignity, freedom, justice and human rights spring from our deepest aspirations as human beings.”

I think it started more because of economic woes.

Regarding Gaddafi renouncing nuclear weapons as being significant… it was, and no dictator will ever do that again after what we just did.

Posted by mgunn | Report as abusive
 

The Bush Administration was an institution without morals. Still, its legacy is vested in the Tea Party revolutionary movement of today.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive
 

I presume the London School of Economics is mourning Gadaffi’s fall from power.

If ever there was an fine example of lefties consorting with dictators (as the right correctly argues) LSE’s ‘friendship’ with Gaddafi must be it.

So much for standing up for the people. The left is all about grabbing power in any shape or form.

Posted by eleno | Report as abusive
 

Nothing for nothing, but I think you need to go back to your research and check on something…

“acts that included the slaughter of American children in airports in Vienna and Rome. President Reagan quite rightly called Gaddafi the ‚Äúmad dog of the Middle East‚ÄĚ.

While I think this is a little sensationalist to say that Americans were the primary targets in these attacks, these were attacks specifically against Israel and Israelis targeting El Al airlines ticket counters in Italy and Austria by Abu Nadil as retaliation against Israel for Operation Wooden Leg, where Israel bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunis (10/85). This had nothing to do with an attack on American children at all. I would suffice to say that if Americans were killed as additional damage, that Abu Nadil wouldn’t have minded, however, that was not their main goal.

Posted by sma92176 | Report as abusive
 

Ever hear of black gold?

Posted by Discovery451 | Report as abusive
 

All too reminiscent of our early ties with Saddam Hussein. We armed him to the teeth to be a counterweight to Iran and to guarantee the stability of Gulf oil. And then he began to feel invincible. We all know how that ended.

Keep an eye an Saudi Arabia. We might see something similar happen there in the years to come.

Posted by IntoTheTardis | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for explaining so much. Ms. Clinton continued the tradition of Gaddafi-coddling by a stubborn reluctance to support the rebels. Obama was finally shamed into doing some air support for rebels when France and Britain took the leadership. The Nato bombing started much too late. When Nato started air strikes, Gaddafi’s long exposed armoured columns were now in the cities terrorizing citizens and the opportunity to wipe them out quickly was gone.

Posted by donvalley | Report as abusive
 

Without a doubt Oil is always an issue for the US in the ME. The next issue is the welfare of Israel, still he only country actually eating another territory/country alive.

But the US has only itself to blame for its dependence on oil – wherever the source. It had spent the last 50 plus years building urban areas enslaved by the automakers. Most of the oil it uses is for transportation and home heating costs. it also uses more than any other country on a daily for auto use alone.

The were

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

the last note got sent accidentally.

The problem is – there is no fix for suburban sprawl. It’s too diffuse and too expensive to service with adequate alternative transportation and many of the old rail lines are gone and their ROW’s are being eaten by encroachment by abutters or put to alternate uses like bicycle and hiking paths. The sprawl itself usually kills off any local agriculture so the urban areas can’t feed themselves at all without trucking everything from thousands of miles away.

I look at Google earth to view urban areas world wide and very few of them – even the gigantic areas like Sao Paolo, Or Beijing and even most European Cities look they are still being constructed around rail lines or other public transportation systems. Large areas of Japan have become continuous city. But they have 180 million people I recall. The radiating valleys in the Kyoto area are continuous strips of farmsteads that all front on the common roads. It must be easy to run regular bus lines along any of them to the nearest located rail lines.

As the country ages, it will become more difficult for seniors to have to live without public transportation. Nursing home life is a miserable and very expensive way to die. And owning a car is becoming more expensive.

This country has made walking for daily errands or taking a bus or train impractical for any but inner city commuters residents.

The private automobile is one of the factors behind the trillions spent in foreign wars. The biggest public transportation subsidies are being eaten by the automakers and it is the most inefficient way to move people. And all of the above to be held hostage by the cost of gas. Very stupid and not at all worth it.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

There’s a mistake in the last paragraph. I meant to write “that European cities look like they are being constructed around public transportation lines” In other words: most of the world had more sense.

And I want to add, that for decades European countries put a very high tax on gasoline. I don’t know for sure, but I think most countries except the ME, have taxed gasoline heavily.

If analysts totaled all the costs of extensive road and highway networks, purchase price and repair bills, gasoline costs, taxes and insurance costs, prison time and lost productivity for DUI and other auto related legal issues, a system that is so ubiquitous it isn’t possible in most suburban areas to walk to a convenient store to get a few groceries, and then the costs of fighting in expensive conflicts that masquerade as “freedom fighting” to ensure that it can control in same way the costs of oil, the automobile is probably the single biggest waste of money and time ever invented.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

Paintcan – took a while – but – spot on!! seems our society neve gets to the “bones” of a problem. I look up and see the sun – literally – burning – at no cost to anyone – burning – day after day, after day, after day . . . Guess it is more fun to create sophisticated weapons to drain blood, limb and life from the body of anyone who dares to stand in the path leading to highly polluting, highly profitable, cheap(?) oil.

Posted by nyman | Report as abusive
 

Thanks nyman, Solar energy isn’t as practical for the northern hemisphere but geo-thermal potential is far more prevalent. The states west of Kansas from Mexico to Canada are all potential sites. The plants are models of simplicity without carbon emissions or toxic waste. It seems the only difficulty is drilling deep enough with a large enough diameter pipe. But fossil fuels need not be outlawed as fuels. Some places would always need it. Many places and developing countries could and are developing other power sources.

You can find maps online charting global geothermal potential.

But it’s easy to tell why Qaddafi was a tyrant with off than on again and than off again popularity. Libya had enormous cash reserves and the largest oil deposits in Africa. This country and Europe both need cheap oil and will get it and control it any way they can. The rest is a matter of propagandizing their countries into accepting the new political reality. It will be easy to get consensus. All the powers that be have to do, is raise the price at the pumps and the countries will fall over themselves to get to even more benighted brethren who ‘need out help”.

Any country with massive mineral wealth is a potential target for the new global concern. And we will all learn to accept the new morality ‚Äėor else‚Äô.

We just have to rescue the Saudi’s the UAE from their ruling dynasts. After all – It wouldn’t be hard to sell that idea at all – especially of overseas development contracts are an avenue for business as usual. And the market will approve with every new “victory’ until another one is needed.

JUST WATCH. That’s all we have to do.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive
 

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