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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Kali Journals - The Taste of Light Sweet Crude

It is perhaps quixotic that Thomas Jefferson, this country's third president, placed 'Libyan piracy' on his list of serious problems facing our young nation.

It is true, pirates of the Barbarry coast made a dent in our youthful democracy's trade with the Mediterranean. The Berber pirates, not unlike those of Somalia today, or Gibraltar in times past, exploited a narrowing of the seas, in this case where Libya and Tunis jut toward the boot of Italy.

This was long before modern Libya unlocked wealth contained in bountiful reserves of light sweet crude oil.

Geographically, Libya's coast is a thin ribbon of desert, some of it seasonally fertile, backed by millions of square miles of the most arid Sahara. Were it not for the oil, strongman Qadaffi would have had little currency to hold his 'nation' together. In fact 'nation' is a descriptor probably best not applied, since like so many other 'nations' in the Middle East, Libya, including Israel, was cobbled together after WWII.

After the breakup of fascist Italy, Libya was fashioned out of three Italian colonial territories. By 1951 Libya had its King, Idris as-Senussi, the Emir of Tripoli.

Oh the problems of nation-states created from the spoils of terrible wars!

Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel, Libya, it feels as if the strife of that great war has continued, for each was fashioned by English speaking victors who used straight line wood rulers on flat paper maps to split apart vast territories of the earth's surface where languages were strange, cultures not understood, and economic development not in the slightest manner realized.

Needless to say the monarchy cobbled together at the conclusion of WWII with a puppet king in charge did not last. To make a long story short, a 27 year old army officer named Muammar Qadaffi took control of the country in 1969 whilst his king was vacationing in Turkey.

Increasingly modernized and urbanized with funds earned from oil exports, what the West actually needed most was a strong interlocutor who could keep Libya's diverse tribal people at work, and in the profitable oil business running. Like all dictators 'indulged' by Western nations, Qadaffi filled a role. His was no different that of Pinochet in Chile (copper), Juan Peron of Argentina (beef and minerals), Francois Duvalier of Haiti (sugar), Samosa of Honduras (bananas).

What was important about his role, like the others I've mentioned, was that the commodity produced by Qaadaffi's nation, flow uninterruptedly, and cheaply, to powers of the first world. Throughout the term of Qadaffi's reign which was supported by the West, the average Libyan lived in repressed poverty.

It may be a truism that 'absolute power corrupts'. Perhaps Qadaffi's Che Guevara-like zeal for 'revolution' and loyalty to his poor subjects, was simply corrupted by easy profits garnered from the oil that seeped from Libyan earth. Whatever the cause, like so many informally approved strongmen doing the bidding of Western economic interests, Qadaffi had his turn at biting the hand that feeds. The downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland in 1988 was a terrorist act in which Qadaffi may have played an active role. Perhaps it was the dictator's desire to take revenge for the death of a daughter who was killed in 1986, by a US strike on Tripoli ordered by American president Ronald Reagan.

The West is mythically predisposed to forget such history, if the parties can come to economic terms. Libya made reparations to the families of victims in the Lockerbie crash. Scottish oil workers continued to labor in Libya, and the exports of light sweet crude flowed north to Europe.

Profits make for good bedfellows. Nothing blights memory so much as the flow of money.

In 2004 Tony Blair travelled to Tripoli and met Qadaffi, followed in 2008 by G.W.Bush's Secretary of State, Condaleeza Rice. The oil flowed. Western leaders were indulgent of the 'mad dog' that Reagan had only roughed up with his F-16 strike. Rice quipped the visit was proof that the United States "has no permanent enemies."

During this interim Qaddaffi's public image was repaired, there was little mention of 'human rights violations' in Israel. In fact Qadaffi was asked to join the UN Human Rights Council. It's difficult to believe the "Muammar Qaddafi Human Rights Prize," named in his honor, was given to noted Westerners.

Perhaps this is the why so many Western diplomats were quick to meet recently and expunge Qadaffi from the same human rights organization. Was it not so much a demonstration of principle as a mopping up of previous error?

I remind my reader of the on-again off-again history of relations with the dictator, and the region, as a way of showing that our relations with this region of North Africa are predicated on one fact only:

Oil.

For all our talk about lives, and terrorism, and human rights, the state departments of the US, Britian, and most European countries are as transparent in their lies as ten year olds.

Our diplomats are not nearly so concerned with human issues, as they are seduced by the slippery taste of Libya's primary export.

Yet all nations who pretend to lament the acts of Qadaffi, and tyrants like him, in Israel, Iran, Africa, Tunis, Yemen, China and elsewhere, use public outcry to secure their national and corporate economic interests. Outcry against human rights abuses are seized as a cause to garner control of the world's precious commodities.

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