Chafing After 40 Years, Qaddafi Baffles the West





Once the mad dog of the Middle East, as Ronald Reagan called him, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, has focused on shedding his outlaw status: He heads the African Union, attended a Group of 8 economic conference in Rome and is courted by Western powers hungry for Libyan oil.

But if the world thought the colonel had changed his views after 40 years in power, he proved otherwise with the hero’s welcome he gave Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted in the Lockerbie bombing of 1988.

“He likes to rub it in to the West that he was vindicated, that he’s becoming an internationally recognized figure again,” said Dirk J. Vandewalle, associate professor of government at Dartmouth College.

It was signature Colonel Qaddafi, extracting a concession from Western powers, offering thanks, then appearing to mock them for caving in. On his visit to Paris in 2007, he lectured the French on human rights. In Rome this year, he pinned a photograph to his chest of the 1931 arrest by Italian troops of the Libyan guerrilla leader Omar al-Mokhtar, whom the Italians later hanged.

But this time, Colonel Qaddafi appears to have overreached (even if Mr. Megrahi’s homecoming, indeed his entire case, may not be as straightforward as many perceive).

Instead of enhancing Colonel Qaddafi’s standing, as he had hoped, Mr. Megrahi’s release has highlighted inherent conflicts in his re-engagement with the outside world, experts said. Colonel Qaddafi’s revolutionary ideology still clashes with Western expectations. He has failed to use his nation’s opening to make political and economic improvements at home. There may even be a degree of naïveté on the part of Colonel Qaddafi, who has expressed shock at the full-throated response from Washington and London...

... The West sees the current situation as clear-cut: Libya honoring a convicted terrorist who helped to blow up a jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. But Libya experts said that it was far more nuanced, explaining in part why Libya acted as it did, and why it was so surprised by the reaction. There are several reasons, the experts said, chief among them that the government never accepted Mr. Megrahi’s guilt.

“When Megrahi was found guilty there was an immediate sense in Libya that a great miscarriage of justice had taken place,” said George Joffe, a lecturer at the Center of International Studies at Cambridge University. “And even on the day of the sentence, Qaddafi said that he would do everything to reverse it. Right from the beginning they did not accept the sentence.”

Still, this does not completely explain Colonel Qaddafi’s behavior...

... From the beginning, it was almost inevitable that this case would end in hostility and recriminations. For those whose relatives died in the 1988 bombing, forcing Libya to pay millions to each family and putting Mr. Megrahi in prison for life amounted to a shred of justice.

But to Libya, that money was a business deal, a small price for a ticket to re-engage with the West and attract foreign investment. Libya did not admit guilt. It assumed responsibility for “the actions of its officials.” The resolution cost Libya about $2.7 billion. The next year Libya’s foreign investment reached $8 billion...


comments powered by Disqus