Monday, May 15, 2006

Washington and Tripoli - An Old Relationship Rekindled

The United States recalled Libya from its diplomatic doghouse today, restoring full diplomatic relations and removing it from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. In explaining the move, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, “We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya's continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.” This seems to be in line with the strain of the Bush administration’s realist philosophy that advocates a foreign policy of punishing intractability but rewarding responsiveness. Indeed, Libya has become something of a reformed sinner by U.S. reckoning, swearing off nuclear weapons and providing information on its former terrorism activities. However, Moammar Gadhafi’s government is anything but a model international citizen, having, in recent years, been implicated in an assassination plot against then Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, (almost certainly) falsely imprisoning Bulgarian and Palestinian health workers to cover the government's own gross incompetence that led to the infection of hundreds of Libyans with the AIDS virus, and other inexcusable conduct. Critics of the U.S. move are already howling about oil-driven diplomacy. No doubt, this is a consideration for U.S. policymakers, who are eager to see American companies take advantage of Libya’s largely untapped energy resources and are under pressure from American consumers to lower energy prices. They are also increasingly worried about competition for ever scarcer energy from China. Another source of oil, especially in a relatively accessible locale like Libya, is a boon. However, it seems likely they resumed relations with Libya on the basis of a more complex cost-benefit analysis. First, American conservatives sincerely believe in a realist diplomacy that rewards good behavior by reforming countries as an incentive for other delinquents to do the same. Second, the Bush administration, and the American policy community at large, is, not unreasonably, obsessed with the Muslim world. They constitute, after all, roughly a quarter of the world’s population. Adding a Muslim ally, even a stinker like Libya (especially one with lots of oil), is good policy in their calculation. Finally, surely the Bushies tire of being angry with so many governments all the time. Iran, Syria, North Korea, France, Spain, Bolivia, Cuba....Even they, it would seem, feel the need to kiss and make up every now and then.

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