Blair and Gaddafi, Carrots and Sticks

Talk about taking it on the chin for the team. The image of Colonel Gaddafi shaking hands with a visibly queasy Tony Blair -- the first handshake was so fleeting it had to be repeated for the cameras -- begs the question: Is Mr. Blair is somehow allergic to being reelected? After all no Western power has suffered more from Col. Gaddafi's callow disregard for human life than the UK, which has suffered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 203 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1998, the murder of police officer Yvonne Fletcher inside the Libyan embassy in 1984 and Libya's longtime support of the IRA.

Despite all this recent polls indicate broad support for the state visit, occasioned by Gaddafi's two surprise announcements -- that Libya had an advanced nuclear weapons manufacturing program, and that it would voluntarily dismantle this program as a show of good will. According to online pollster YouGov, 60% of Britons supported Blair[s trip while only 20% objected, quite a testament to English pragmatism and the nation's distaste for the war on terror. But no matter the public praise, offering carrots to disarm rogue states with nuclear ambitions is fine only so long as the stick is not altogether neglected.

Having dodged the bullet of public condemnation at home, Mr. Blair jetted to Tripoli the day after attending services to mourn those lost in the Madrid train bombing, less than a fortnight after 3/11. While there he offered Gaddafi "our hand in partnership" and put forth several bizarre and overgenerous proposals, not least of them an offer to train Libyan officers in British military academies while the African nation's horrendous human rights record was politely ignored. Blair's concessions were especially excessive when compared to America's more measured response of lifting travel restrictions and otherwise taking a wait and see position.

Libyan exiles decried the visit's "indecent haste" and the tabling of human rights issues, particularly the bounties Libya has offered for assassinating expatriate dissidents since 1980. There continues to be a $1 million bounty on Ashur Shamis, the country's most prominent opposition leader, who now resides in Britain. Mr. Shamis, spuriously accused of links to Al-Qaeda by the Libyan Ministry of Justice and Public Security, is a case study in Col. Gaddafi's means of "fighting terrorism."

Mr. Blair is placing Britain in the uncomfortable position of partnership with a man who has sponsored terror since coming to power in 1970 --assassinating dissidents, supporting the PLO, IRA and practically any other group that requested funding, financing the Black September Movement responsible for the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, often hiring the likes of Carlos the Jackal to do his dirty work, and directly organizing the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing. And that's not to mention the 20-year occupation of Chad.  Then there's Lockerbie and Fletcher. Finally it was the stick of the air strikes ordered by President Reagan in response to the Berlin bombing (which missed Gaddafi but killed his adopted infant daughter) that began to cool his ardor -- or at least his active support -- for terror. Gaddafi largely shifted his ambitions from pan-Arabism to pan-Africanism, and focused more on stifling internal dissent, most famously when troops opened fire on pro- and anti-Gaddafi groups exchanging heated chants at a soccer match in Tripoli, sparking widespread rioting.

Unnerving as it is to realize, talk of humane governance in Libya is going to be a casualty of diplomacy both venal and pragmatic. Mr. Blair's visit brought with it the unveiling of a deal for Shell to develop Libyan liquefied natural gas for export forecasted to be worth $1 billion. As further agreements to exploit Libya's oil resources are formulated and Britain's economic stake grows, the U.K. will presumably become still more reticent to criticize Gaddafi's human rights record.

The most recent BP statistical review of British proven oil reserves reports that at current consumption levels the UK has only 5.4 years left before its proven oil reserves are depleted, and concludes that to ensure this doesn't result in an unprecedented energy crisis, a source of new plentiful, cheap and easily accessed petroleum needs to be found. Possessing a capacity to produce 1.7 million barrels daily of low sulfur crude oil at the price of $1 a barrel in some fields and a strategically convenient location in North Africa, Libya is in a strong position to fill in these energy gaps, no matter the nation's moral failings.

But while these concerns have certainly helped fast track Libya's rehabilitation process, they don't in themselves invalidate it. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and even more so since 9/11, statesmen have had to concern themselves with the previously unthinkable prospect of poor states with mercurial leaders using nuclear devices in anger or selling them for profit. The lessons learned since Pakistan mastered the nuclear cycle is that third world nations without legitimate sources of income will turn, invariably, to weapons sales to pay their bills, becoming in effect epidemiological pumps of enrichment centrifuges and black market plutonium. We've no objection to extending carrots to those who stop such behavior, so long as, oil or no, Gaddafi still knows to fear the stick.

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