Too old for terrorism: Libya's Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is all smiles now that western leaders are his pals again. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.)
Before Osama bin Laden, there was Muammar el-Qaddafi--or Khadafy, as the Gannett news chain has him, or Gaddafi (Time magazine), Kaddafi (Newsweek) and Kadafi (Los Angeles Times).
Like bin Laden, Qaddafi's schemes and terrors were briefly spectacular, but strategic and political failures. In his heyday back in the 1970s and 80s he sent troops to Uganda and Chad, tried and failed to overthrow governments in Ethiopia, Ghana, Gambia, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia, tried and failed in mergers with Syria, Egypt, Algeria and a few other countries, sponsored terrorism in Lebanon, Jordan and in the skies (the Lockerbie bombing in 1988), and in the 1970s did so, for a price, with the help of former CIA operatives Edwin P. Wilson and Frank E. Terpil--part of the case against Wilson was overturned on technicalities. Not least, he tried to acquire nuclear weapons. He failed at every turn, though as a world pariah he was a great success.
Too Old for This
Somewhere along the way Qaddafi figured out that he wasn't doing himself, his legacy, his Libyan "revolution," his neighbors or the rest of the world any good, and that, in matters of terrorism anyway, he was a little too old, perhaps even too unwilling to follow in the mega-brutal steps of the Osama generation. The mellowing murderer started turning toward conciliation. Britain's Tony Blair visited him in 2004. Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, president of Italy's council of ministers at the time, followed. Then France's Jacques Chirac. Then the European Commission invited him for a chat in Brussels.
This week, beginning Monday, it's Paris. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is receiving the old desert brawler with open arms and a tent pitched in the gardens the mansion where foreign dignitaries stay, so Qaddafi can receive guests his way. Sarkozy's countrymen, including several of the president's ministers, aren't pleased. Rama Yade, his secretary for human rights, was livid at the sight of Sarkozy shaking hands with Qaddafi on World Human Rights Day. She didn't attend that evening's state dinner in Qaddafi's honor, nor did Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who preferred meeting with a German minister. Then there was this editorial in today's Le Monde:
... the haste to receive [Qaddafi], the arrangements he's been surrounded with for quite a long visit [five days] give France an inglorious image. Proposing no conditions to its deepening relations with Tripoli, Paris is granting a blank slate to an old dictator whose principal ace seems to be his reserves of petrodollars.
Gun-Running to Tripoli
Back in July, it was Sarkozy who was paying tribute to Qaddafi in Libya, shortly after Sarkozy's wife, then-wife rather, had secured the release of Bulgarian doctors and nurses accused of intentionally injecting patients with the AIDS virus. The row over the Bulgarians had hobbled French-Libyan relations. It's never been clear what Sarkozy's wife did to secure their release, but what happened next was: France signed a $400 million arms deal with Libya, the first such between Libya and a Western power since the lifting of a European trade embargo in 2004. That deal, too, was worked out behind the French legislature's back. Maybe Sarkozy can understand Qaddafi, the French snidely suggest, because the two men share a few dictatorial tendencies.
Never one to be left without the last word, Sarkozy was reminding his countrymen that "France must talk with everyone." He's not one to mince snideness, either: "It is rather beautiful the principle that consists in not getting yourself wet, not taking risks, being so certain of everything you think while you’re having your latte on the Boulevard Saint-Germain." The French word for that is touché.