Gaddafi’s Unique Role


Muammar al Gaddafi.jpg
I have only been in Libya a few hours but am intrigued with this place and the people here.
Libyan Leader Muammar al Gaddafi’s pictures are everywhere — but at least they are creative and have some panache compared to what one finds in some other countries with dominant political bosses who have no style.
Gaddafi is working overtime pulling major summits into Libya — particularly the Arab Summit which will take place here next week. Just last week, he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his takeover of the country’s government and giant celebratory posters and placards are all over the city.
Tomorrow, I will be meeting one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, Seif, who has supported programs that purport to de-radicalize violent Islamists. I’ll know more about the program after some meetings tomorrow, but at least Libya figured out a way to seriously confront the reality of political Islam. The U.S., as of now, has no real strategy regarding political Islam — other than sticking its head in the sand.
I just had an exchange with my friend Arnaud de Borchgrave, one of the world’s greatest chroniclers of the Middle East over the last six decades.
De Borchgrave sent an email to me on the occasion of my first trip to Tripoli:

I first went there [Tripoli] one month after the Colonel took over Sept 1, 1969 and I’ve interviewed him at length six times since then.
Alexandra* grew up there as her father was the first US ambassador to Libya after independence in 1952.
She was present at two of my interviews, shooting covers for Newsweek.
He’s maintained himself in power since the age of 27! Can’t be dismissed as a fruitcake.
— Arnaud
*[de Borchgrave’s wife, Alexandra Villard de Borchgrave]

I was up at the UN General Assembly meeting when Col. Gaddafi was on a bit of a long rant during his time on stage — and reminded folks on a CNN show that listening to Libya’s leader speak for an hour, or two, or three — was well worth cooperation on other fronts, particularly in Libya suspending its nuclear weapons program.
I also have a hunch and some hope that Gaddafi is going to use the Arab Summit to arm twist the Egyptians and Saudis to stop playing games with Fatah and Hamas and to remove the blocks each of them have had at various points in resecuring a unified Palestinian government, something Ban Ki-Moon also called for in more general terms on Sunday.
As it stands, the Saudis are ready to support a unity government in Palestine — but the Egyptians, who are allegedly trying to broker a deal between Fatah and Hamas, are according to my sources actually blocking things (in part because of US pressure).
More later.
— Steve Clemons


11 comments on “Gaddafi’s Unique Role

  1. Sweetness says:

    But, but Nadine…
    Why is your pointing to an example of ONE example (Libya) more persuasive than my pointing to MANY examples (all the other nuclear countries and wannabes)?
    I don’t get that logic…
    BTW, at the time, there was considerable commentary on all the other reasons Libya chose to give up its nukes, such as they were.
    Unfortunately or fortunately, unlike other posters here, I don’t have a growing library of links at the ready to enable me to pounce whenever I disagree with someone’s statement–or I’d give you a link or two.
    But they aren’t hard to find…


  2. nadine says:

    “Look at all the folks who DIDN’T give up their nuclear programs.
    Where’s the credibility? Where’s the effectiveness? ”
    That’s not a useful way to look at anybody’s effectiveness, Sweetness. You wind up saying that if somebody doesn’t get 100% of his wishes, he gets nothing. What you have to come up with is realistic starting point for assessing interests, ideology and alliances (this is where the so-called realists are unrealistic; they look only at interests), then look for any major shifts of position.


  3. Sweetness says:

    But Nadine…
    Even if I were to buy your world view here on who’s naughty and
    who’s nice…
    Look at all the folks who DIDN’T give up their nuclear programs.
    Where’s the credibility? Where’s the effectiveness? And we spent a
    LOT of money and wasted a lot of lives to figure that out, if not
    intensify and already dismal position.


  4. nadine says:

    Sweetness, when did Gaddafi give up his nuclear program (which was unknown to the CIA), and why?
    Such a turnabout means that Bush did have credibility.


  5. Sweetness says:

    Here’s another one from the same article:
    “Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would
    make sense if something epic had just happened that might
    convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow
    or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the
    administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle
    East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing
    will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it
    the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn
    anything over there. But they’ll learn.”
    It’s a little hard to know when Totten thinks we had credibility in
    that region. During the Bush era? It would be hard to argue that
    thesis in any sort of objective way.


  6. nadine says:

    Michael Totten has this great quote from Lee Smith, entirely apropos to America relations with Mideast dictators:
    “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of _The_Strong_Horse_, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”
    Steve, how many people have tried to murder you to get your spot in the New America Foundation? How many people do you think have tried to murder Gaddafi to get his spot?


  7. kotzabasis says:

    Clemons’ visit to Libya seems like a prostrating satrap visiting his king to render his obsequious homage to him. To say that “Libya figured out a way to SERIOUSLY (m.e.) confront the reality of political Islam,” without really knowing much about the program of “deradicalization,” as Clemons himself admits, while the U.S. has no “real strategy’ against it and has “its head in the sand” on the issue, is to violently disfigure one’s intellectual credibility.
    Political Islam from long ago has been continuously transforming itself into militant Islam which America is fighting with an unambiguous and real strategy and with its head high, while Clemons wants to fight it with its tail between its legs.


  8. larry birnbaum says:

    OK, so he’s not a “fruitcake.” Is this supposed to be praise? Are we supposed to conclude therefore that he’s a statesman?
    We are required by necessity to deal with despots, even some who have ruled their unfortunate countries for 40+ years. To hold them in esteem on account of the longevity of their despotism is however grotesque.


  9. Steven Clemons says:

    Mitch — Libya and the US have normalized relations today. The
    place is complex — and I share with folks here what I see, and
    while the ultimate focus of what I write won’t be the posters of the
    Colonel, the fact is that they are colorful and interesting. When you
    visit here and report on what you see, I look forward to your
    description. best, steve


  10. M Stoltz says:

    It’s important to try and see the world through the eyes of our sometime enemies. But isn’t it a bit trite to observe that an unrepentant mass murderer promotes himself with panache?


  11. Paul Norheim says:

    last year I saw a BBC documentary about the Libyan de-
    radicalizing program – including interviews with Gaddafi’s son,
    who seemed to be highly intelligent, 100% non-eccentric, and
    modest in his behavior. He reminded me a bit of (a younger
    version of) the King of Jordan – Western education, good English
    The interesting thing was how they used theological arguments
    in this program. It’s hard to say to which extent this conflict is
    religious, and to which extent political and cultural – it is
    certainly an inseparable mixture. But religion and religious
    language is certainly an important element. By discussing with
    the prisoners in their own religious language, the program
    seemed to touch a nerve that Western orators and propaganda
    are incapable of.
    I hope you’ll write a bit about this program after seeing
    Gadaffi’s son today.


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