Tuesday, May 04, 2004

A Rare Day of Insightful Commentary at the NYT

What's gotten into the New York Times editorial staff today? First they put out an article acknowledging that Schwarzenegger is proving to be a successful governor, then they publish a column critical of the overeagerness of European leaders to get cozy with Ghaddafi.

Some European leaders seem unduly eager to welcome Libya's bloodstained dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, into respectable international company. They ought to restrain themselves. Colonel Qaddafi's police state is a prime example of the kind of autocratic, erratic and incompetent government that has led most of the Arab world into a dead end of economic and political stagnation, blighting millions of lives and stoking rage across the region.

Colonel Qaddafi's agreement last December to dismantle Libya's unconventional weapons programs made the world safer, and justified the easing of American economic sanctions explicitly linked to those programs. A strong case can now be made for easing Libya's economic isolation and improving the lot of its people — so long as Colonel Qaddafi refrains from channeling the proceeds into financing weapons programs or terrorism.

While doing so, however, democratic leaders need to maintain a healthy distance from the man responsible for the deaths of so many innocent people as he prepares to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his absolute rule.

For most of that period, Colonel Qaddafi has used Libya's oil wealth to finance his fantasies of international revolutionary leadership by sponsoring coups, invasions, assassination attempts and terrorist atrocities across the world. Americans got a taste of his methods in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, an attack that killed 270 people. A year later, another Libyan terrorist bomb killed 170 people on a French airliner over Africa. Libyans have endured decades of assassinations, abductions and torture.

In recent years, Colonel Qaddafi has withdrawn from direct involvement in international terrorism, and he has now ended his unconventional weapons programs. Still, lengthy arbitrary detentions and other human rights abuses continue at home.

Yet earlier this spring, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, who insists that the civilized world was right to confront the murderous Saddam Hussein, allowed himself to be entertained by Colonel Qaddafi in a tent in Tripoli. Mr. Blair's principles should have kept him away.

Last week, Colonel Qaddafi met with the European Commission in Brussels, his first visit outside Africa or the Arab world in nearly 15 years. After sharing an elegant lunch with the commission's president, Romano Prodi, he made it clear that his views on violence and politics have not fundamentally changed. Characterizing past Libyan terrorism as "armed struggle" in support of freedom fighters, he darkly warned that "hopefully, nothing will force us to go back to the old days when we used our cars and explosive belts." (emphases added)

Wise words indeed, especially from the NYT, which is more usually to be seen peddling the faux-wisdom that the Europeans know everything best. The fawning that Tony Blair has been doing over Ghaddafi has been difficult to watch; there is a difference between providing a rogue with a carrot and treating said rogue like a long-lost son, and Blair and Prodi seem not to recognize that. The ongoing situation in Iran, in which new agreements on nuclear research are made by the Iranians only for new violations to follow quickly on their heels, is yet another example of a toothless and feckless European "multilateralism" in action.