Of Diplomats and Dictators

Libya's 'Mad Dog' has learnt from Tunisia and Egypt that capitulating is for pussies, not real leaders, and his stance has delivered the biggest diplomatic headache since the Bosnian war.

As world leaders prevaricate, discuss and wring collective hands over what to do with Libya, it appears Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi is outsmarting them all.  It should come as no surprise because he couldn’t give a toss for any of them, let alone what they think of him.

He was once – and now for reasons bloodcurdlingly clear – named the ‘Mad Dog of Libya’ by President Reagan. Then he sucked in presidents and prime ministers with his ability to morph into the sort of poster boy they wanted for proof that hideous dictators could earn international respect if they handed over their nuclear weapons. Cache closed.

He was given awards by famed educational institutes and kisses from the likes of Tony Blair. He went from being a despised, erratic and cruel despot to prancing around the world with his massive tents, Ukrainian nurses and voluptuous female security detail. He went from mad dog to good dog – albeit a little strange dog. He managed to diplomatically prison break the fall guy for the Lockerbie bombing, oil companies got their deals and all was fine with the world.

Mad dogs however have a habit of reverting to type.

Qaddafi, like other leaders in troubled North African and Middle Eastern Muslim states watched with horror as Tunisia tumbled and Egypt followed. Oppressed peoples took the message they too could throw off their suffocating autocrats.

Taking a leaf out of the Iranian playbook, Qaddafi took the message that he would not crumble like those pussies Ben-Ali and Mubarak. No way. That is a worrying stance if copied in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Oman or Saudi Arabia.

While looking pretty shell shocked in the first days of the Libyan uprising, Qaddafi soon found his ‘strong man’ pants and went to business securing his kingdom. Well what’s a bloke to do when his darling sons and family are threatened? Indeed.

He blamed al-Qaeda for drugging Libya’s youth … he almost seemed concerned that his young people had ‘lost their way’… he ranted on about how Libyan people love him … all love him. Love can be many things to many people it seems, especially when you can get over it as quickly as the Mad Dog.

He has no concerns about crushing his own people. If slaughter is what they want, it is what they will get, and as Libya moves eerily close to a full out civil war, slaughter is the name of the game. Qaddafi has more toys at his disposal than those who started off believing they were going to oust him and herald in freedom after forty-one years of tyranny.

And that’s where the rest of the world fits in.

Who’d have known only weeks ago that Libya was of such strategic importance that an internal civil war could spark such a diplomatic dilemma? The dictator vs. the diplomats is always a tense and frustrating scenario. Libya does of course have oil, which is a tricky little substance when the morality of war in Muslim countries needs to be considered. On the other hand, there is nothing morally dubious about wanting to intervene to stop a brute mowing down his own people, but interventionists need to consider many things. The first could possibly be getting their message straight when it comes to what exactly is entailed in securing a no-fly zone.

US Secretary for Defence Gates says implementing a no-fly zone to ground Qaddafi’s trump weapons card will involve air strikes on Libya’s air defences. That, in his call-a-spade-a-bloody-shovel kind of way, is the reality. It could endanger civilians and it is an invasion of a sovereign state.

Britain and France are busy drawing up a resolution to present to the United Nations Security Council should the no-fly zone option trump. But what happens if, and this is highly likely, China and/or Russia use their veto powers at the UNSC to prevent such action. Neither China nor Russia have great track records when it comes to pandering to rebels which makes a mockery of the UNSC’s moral badge, but that’s for another day. 

If the UN says no to the resolution, do the troubled powers go ahead anyway, knowing that this time the Gulf Co-Operation Council has given its blessing, and that is likely to be followed by the Arab League which meets on the issue in Egypt this weekend?

If the US, France, Britain and co. don’t get what they want from the UN are they bound to step back from this brink knowing they had tried to get the sanction of the world’s moral watchdog, but failed?

That would leave them all looking pretty emasculated, but the option of repeating the Iraq War folly of blundering on in without UN approval is certainly worse. Then there’s the issue of starting a third war in a Muslim country – even if other Muslim states do this time publicly support it.

And then there’s the biggie. What happens if Qaddafi hangs on to power? The red faces of diplomats will be nothing compared to the fate of any rebels captured by Qaddafi loyalists. How will governments deal with Qaddafi in the future? Putting him back on the despot list, or adding him to the ridiculous axis of evil won’t do anything … and he’ll never agree to face the charges being laid against him at the International Criminal Court.

There’s talk of arming the rebels, but that sets an extremely dangerous precedent. Does the democratic free world then start arming any body of civilians who wish to oust their oppressive regimes … Chinese dissidents perhaps? What about Palestinians who have been occupied and oppressed for the same length of time that Qaddafi has been making life in Libya hell for so many. Can’t really imagine the US playing consistent on that one.

That said, the world does have a duty to protect Libyans from the fighter jets, snipers, tanks, automatic weapons, and helicopters of their own ‘leader’. Whatever that something, or mix of somethings, it needs to be done quickly as the rebels who are operating on enthusiasm and the hope of divine intervention will likely soon run out of earthly firepower. For them there is no going back…they either win or die and with Qaddafi’s reputation that dying will not be peaceful.

The best to be hoped for is that troops loyal to Qaddafi will turn on him to save their own skins.

World leaders and their highly paid diplomats are really on show now, and show time requires them to come up with some plausible options before too much longer. Let’s hope that NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is correct when he says that he does not believe the international community will fail.

Let’s also hope there will be some major reassessment and soul-searching of the immorality of pandering to despots if such relationships are in a country’s financial interests. What we are watching now is the cost of mates like Qaddafi is way, way too high. Al-Qaeda may be the common enemy, but Qaddafi has proven wrong the old adage about the enemy of my enemy. In this case that enemy is still your enemy and not some rehabilitated poster boy.