Friday, September 12, 2008

Ties with Libya expose US hypocrisy

Gulf News

By Marwan Kabalan

September 12, 2008

When US President George W. Bush delivered his first major speech on democracy in the Middle East, it seemed as if the US had turned a page of history.

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," Bush said in the fall of 2003. "Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East".

In accordance, Bush pledged to support the cause of Arab democrats and rein on Arab regimes to allow more political participation. Recent developments in US policy towards the Arab world suggest that these were empty words. The Bush administration has, in fact, not only failed to translate these promises into something tangible, but has also reversed the gear.

As far as we know, democracy promotion in general has never been an end by itself for the US, rather the form of democracy promoted was, in most cases, narrow and thereby suitable for furthering US interests. This applies both to the US's historical record and the role of democracy promotion as a "central theme" in the foreign policy of the Bush administration.

The gap between the commitment to promoting democracy and the reality of US foreign policy is most evident in the case of the Middle East, for whom there must be disbelief at the notion that the US has a long-standing commitment to democracy promotion.

The entire history of US relations with this region shows that Washington has been involved more in undermining democratic regimes than fostering them. And, crucially, the drive for such a policy has been economic and strategic interests. The case of Libya provides an excellent example of this tendency.

Last week, the whole world was watching, with amusement, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice embracing the Libyan regime. To add insult to injury, Rice emerged from a meeting with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli smiling broadly, describing her visit to Libya as "a historic moment".


For the sake of refreshing our memory, Rice was a guest of the same leader who, for the past 40 years, has been branded in the west as a "disgrace to civilisation". Former US president Ronald Reagan once called him the "mad dog of the Middle East", who sponsors international terrorism, condones piracy, kidnapping, plane-hijacking and even hired-killing. In US media, Gaddafi was portrayed as a "ruthless dictator and power-lusting nationalist", who very often expressed fascist and explosive social ideas.

He was, furthermore, characterised as an "agitator, maverick demagogue, irresponsible, and at times, childish." His weird ideas were depicted as radical and utopian fallacies closer in shape and essence to chauvinism than to traditional nationalism. In addition, Libya's dismal human rights record was denounced and; as a consequence, Gaddafi's regime was isolated, contained and became subject to international sanctions.

In recent years, however, this picture has been completely discarded and replaced with a more positive one. This radical shift reflected a long-standing tendency in Western political discourse, concealed political and economic interests and culminated in the dramatic rapprochement with Libya.

Indeed, Gaddafi has made enough concessions to bring about a change in the US approach towards Libya. The US administration has clearly ignored that Gaddafi has made a few concessions, in fact none, to his own people. He is still the undisputed ruler, or - to be more precise - the owner of the country and its resources. Amidst the rush to secure economic interests, US calls for political openness could not stand a chance.

Rice claims that she raised issues of human rights with Gaddafi, but, to the dismay of many, no evidence to support this claim has so far surfaced. The only statement that has been heard in Tripoli was about Libya's enormous economic resources, which "matter to us", as Rice put it.

Dr Marwan Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria.

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