5 Mar 2011

Libyan Lessons

Gaddafi, Gaddafi. Everyone wants to get rid of the rotten old mangy dog. But no one knows how. In fact, no one knows an awful lot about Libya at all.
A short hop across the Mediterranean from Italy, yet Libya might as well be on a distant planet for all the knowledge and insight we have had about life inside its borders.

For several years we've heard virtually nothing of substance from inside the country. Very few people bothered to speak to the Libyan people who lived under his Gaddafi's mean, repressive regime. Their voices were muted. Until now.

The country erupts in revolt against its leader and we don't have a clue what to do about it.

Gaddafi is an evil, nasty man, right? So the consensus now goes.
But he wasn’t so evil or mad when Tony Blair was embracing him, when Berlusconi was giving him the Bunga Bunga treatment, when Peter Mandelson was shamelessly spending lavish weekends with his playboy son on Corfu yachts; when the London School of Economics was financially brown-nosing itself to his shadowy ways, when BP (remember them?) was eagerly salivating over his oil millions.

The problem with Gaddafi was that he, his family and their acolytes became the state. The people of Libya existed to serve him instead of the other way around. They feared him. How ironic that he is now the one living in desperate, aggressive fear of his own people.

Like dictators and tyrants everywhere, he was simply too insecure to take criticism. Then, like a cornered lunatic, he became desperate. Gaddafi seems happy to buy in rent-a-thug militias from neighbouring Africa countries to coldly shoot and murder his own people.

Even the saintly Nelson Mandela misguidedly lavished praise on Gaddafi, warmly greeting him as his ‘brother leader’.
Because Gaddafi could be contained he could be condoned. Those oil millions made it easy for a succession of foreign leaders to do a deal and overlook the blood on his hands.
Never mind the revolting acts of bombing the Lockerbie plane and paying for the bombs of Irish terrorists. Look south across the Sahara into Africa and you will find Gaddafi’s grubby and bloody fingerprints all over the making and shaping of some of Africa’s nastiest, most brutal dictators and butchers: Charles Taylor in Liberia (now on trial in the Hague; how long before Gaddafi joins him?). Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone and bloody involvement in Dafur.
All of this casually overlooked, outshone by those flashing dollar signs in the eyes of giddy leaders.
Blair, Mandelson, Rothschild and their greedy ilk…all of them are as unrelentingly shameless as they are self-justifying.
The shit might change but the flies stay the same.

It is very easy for many politicians to cosily hide behind the idea that international organisations like the UN are the most effective way to deter Gaddafi from murdering his own people. A strange sort of cosy consensus seems to have emerged that the UN can make everything right. Don't count on it.
If I was a Libyan on the streets of Tripoli or elsewhere fighting for my country's liberation from brutal despotism and freedom I wouldn’t count for one moment on the UN, the EU, or indeed the passive, pondering Barack Obama, helping me in any meaningful way. Fine words usually followed by impotent actions.
Remember that the UN happily allowed Libya to sit on its Human Rights Council until only a few days ago. That tells you plenty about the way the UN operates.

And when it comes to the EU, can its foreign policy representative, Baroness Ashton, gives serious, straight-faced lectures about democracy when she has never been democratically elected to anything in her entire life?

My solution?
Send in Gaddafi’s old chum Tony Blair. Lock them in a room together and let Tony talk him into exiled retirement. He’s probably got a room or two going in his Egyptian Red Sea mansion. Erect the tent extension. The two of them could sit by the sea and reminisce their good times.

Perhaps Tony Blair should also be asked to provide detailed disclosure of every visit he’s made to Libya, how much he was compensated and where exactly that money came from.

You sense that a small, but significant slice of Gaddafi’s (or rather the Libyan people’s) oil money has (via rich American banks) been channelled into funding Blair’s exotic global lifestyle. Come clean Tony.

Don’t let Gaddafi hide a thing. Don’t bomb him. Instead, flood the country with journalists and information: things he cannot fight or shoot. Instead of threatening and cornering him, why not entice him or confuse him. Why not seek to divide those around him?

There are many things we can do to enable and empower the many Libyan people bent on toppling Gaddafi. But they, the Libyan people, must do it for themselves.
The big failures of the West (as so often) has been the failure to be smart and anticipate what might be coming. The failure to sufficiently understand a country and all of its people from the inside. The failure to read and anticipate is not a Libyan failing. It is a failure all across the Middle East and beyond, down into Africa and across into Iran and Afghanistan.

That is what happens when governments (not just stuffy foreign mandarins but also the high-minded and worthy DIFD idealists) only deal with those in and around other governments instead of meaningfully engaging with ordinary people on the streets.
We criticise Gaddafi and his ilk. That is too easy to do. Yet we are as detached from his people (or subjects) as he is.

Political outrage is a common noise. And there is nothing like selective outrage too.
So to all those who condemn / deplore / express outrage over Gaddafi, why not Mugabe in Zimbabwe? Or King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia? Or Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia? Or Vladimir Putin in Russia?

Or indeed why not be outraged by the repessive, brutal dictatorship in China?
Why are any of them really any different? Or is it all a matter of degree?
Principles and values don’t seriously matter. Despite the fine words, stability and security interests nearly always trump them.

Think about that next time you hear a politician - from any party - using words like ‘totally unacceptable’ and ‘strong condemnation’, expressing outrage about how an unpleasant dictator treats its people. However much some would like us to, we cannot go around the world imposing our ways and values on other countries.

We choose our dictators, sorry allies, according to our strategic and economic interests. Many of them are far from virtuous. Lets just make our leaders be honest in admitting it.

The revolutions in the Middle East are all about the people. The best we can do is wish them well and wish them luck. They will need it.

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