Winners and losers in Libya’s political volte-face

WHEN president Bill Clinton was elected for the first time, Iraqis took to the streets cheering and applauding. They regarded the event as a victory against their enemy George Bush Sr.

By Al Hadi Shaloof

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Published: Wed 25 Feb 2004, 12:59 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:15 AM

On that day I was a guest of the former French Foreign minister, Michel Jobert, with whom I have good relations, especially because he was a member of the panel of judges when my thesis in international law for the PhD was discussed.

Jobert, who had also good ties and high experience with all Arab presidents and kings, commented on the reaction of the Iraqi masses by saying that Arabs were poor, they thought that the change of persons would have an importance and impact on the policies of the big powers. “The policies of superpowers and the democratic states are not based on persons, but on long-range strategy, which will change according to rules of interest and not subject to the change of persons or officials,” he said.

Politicians in superpowers are mere executive tools, or precisely pawns in chess or digits in a complicated systems. Therefore the Libyan-American rapprochement as well as the visit of the Congress delegation to Tripoli, is part of the American policy of objectives already specified by the US administration. Such policy is also part of a perceived strategy charted out by the complicated American state authority, even if the policy in which such ways are carried out are different.

The history of such policy is known to most experts in international relations. These were when the deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein received and welcomed a delegation from the US Congress, who called on him during his war against Iran. The delegation was accompanied by Donald Rumsfeld, then a prominent political figure and currently secretary of Defence. The deposed dictator thought at that time that the initiative and the support of the US for his regime would become a happy and permanent link for him and his children and clan in Tikrit.

He was wrong. The US Army under the orders of the same Rumsfeld last year entered Baghdad victorious like the Mongols and the Tatars when they invaded Iraq and destroyed Baghdad, toppling the Iraqi regime and its dictator.

Irrespective of these events and until toady many Arab rulers have not yet realised American political ambitions, whose basic and significant objectives and purposes are to get the natural resources whatever their geographic locations are and by any way whatsoever.

Matter of interest
Winston Churchill said where were the interests of Great Britain. I would search for them. He did not take much interest during the Second World War to change his policy towards Soviet Union. President Charles De Gaulle said France had no permanent friends but permanent interests. Thereafter he decided to expel the American bases asking US to change its currency in French banks and treasury. He also called on America to give him in turn the golden cover for the US$ and also pulled out of Nato.

All countries in the world, then, have been trying to change and be changed with intent to correct their foreign policy from time to time, which in fact is linked to foreign circumstances and international changes provided that such change should be connected with factors of interest, internal political change and the balance between the domestic and foreign interests according to the international standard of equality as well as the ability to absorb the casual developments for the international relations.

The Egyptian political change after the death of former president Gamal Abdel Nasser is one of the important political changes in Arab world. Such change was declared by the late Egyptian president Mohammed Anwar Sadat when he adopted the policy of openness and change towards the West.

Other major changes in international policies appeared in the perestroika of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Other political changes cropped up in the east European states, which culminated in the end of communism and socialism to be replaced by the liberal and democratic system.

All these changes except the Egyptian one were regarded as changes in which the equality and foreign and domestic factors combined in order to cater for the needs and achieve their interests in the establishment of democracy, economic welfare along with maintaining the capability to manoeuvre and act freely in international dealings.

No doubt what had made the strong change in foreign policy of east European states to succeed was the existence of basic rules and infrastructure in terms of education, industry etc.

Such infrastructure and other factors have contributed effectively in laying the foundations for significant change in the legal and political and economic systems of these countries.

The Libyan change
After 35 years during which the anti-West foreign policy prevailed, Libya’s foreign policy is tilted towards establishing the Arab union or Arab unity or the Islamic union, African unity and tendency towards Africa.

The foreign policy of Libya along the last 35 years had never intersected with the interests of the Libyan people. It had never been linked at any time passed to a scientific study based on healthy economy to achieve welfare to the people.

The Libyan people have lost huge resources in direct wars with their African neighbours and Arabs such as Chad, Egypt, Tunisia, Western Sahara as well as involvement in gang and mercenary wars in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe such as supporting the Irish Republican Army or IRA.

The foreign policy had wasted perhaps more than $120 billion in arms and financial aid including assistance to set up the African Union.

After 35 years the world was taken by surprise when the Libyan foreign policy made a radical change and rapprochement with the US administration and Britain.

The Libyan regime declared such a detente and announced the country’s willingness to renounce its weapons of mass destruction programme as well as conventional weapons such as long-range missiles.

The American president and the US administration cheered and so did the old Britain regarding such attitude as a bold stand and other Islamic states such as Iran were told to emulate the Libyan example. The Libyan regime too did not hesitate to advise Arab and Muslim countries to get rid of these lethal weapons.

The Libyan change did not come from a vacuum or an internal desire, but was a change that was dictated by the first Gulf War and the use of Tomahawks missiles, which destroyed the biggest Arab army (Iraq’s) without causing any damage or losses to the US-led coalition armies before the waging of the last Gulf war, which destroyed Iraq and ended Saddam Hussein.

The events of Iraq and the capture of Saddam have shaken up the Arab world. So the change of the Libyan policy was dictated by the first and second Gulf wars. It is different from that which took place in east Europe but resembled and did not differ from that which took place in Egypt after the death of Nasser and Sadat’s tilt towards America and his historic visit to Israel, recognising the Jewish state and signing the Camp David accord.

The Libyan regime was smart in exploiting the difficult situation of the US administration and Britain, which failed to find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the main cause of the war.

The Libyan stand was a gift to the American president in this election year. The reaction of the US and Britain hit two birds with one stone as they proved to the Arabs they are not their enemies, although they fought Iraq but negotiated with Libya.

It is my personal contention that the US had no desire at all to change the Libyan regime but only Saddam’s because Iraq posed a threat to its staunchest ally in the region, Israel.

The Libyan regime took such a stand to ensure its survival, thus dealt intelligently with the American administration. The US, however, was much more concerned that the regime should not contradict in any form with its economic interests.

US foreign policy has no friends or ethics but only permanent interests. America, in my opinion, will not accept the inheritance of authority in Libya or in non-royal Arab states.

I believe that the correct work is to establish proper domestic policy based on democracy, respect for human rights and a state in which power is inherited by virtue of law. Hence foreign policy should always be set to advance the interests of the country and the citizen in both the short and long terms, and all citizens of the nation should cooperate for building the future under the rule of law.

Dr Al Hadi Shaloof is the head of the Euro-Arab Lawyers and Jurists Association in Paris.

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