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The Enigma Of Gadhafi, A Pariah Once Again

The arc of Moammar Gadhafi's rule in Libya took a new turn in 2004, when Britain, the United States and several close allies began to renew ties with a country and a ruler who had become a pariah. That rapprochement seemed expedient in the post-9/11 era.

And the thaw in relations came despite President Ronald Reagan once calling Gadhafi "the mad dog of the Middle East."

But Gadhafi's most recent acts in Libya — where hundreds of opposition protesters have been killed in recent days — have put the newly cozy relationship between Libya and the West in a different light.

In a piece for Foreign Policy magazine titled A Regime We Can Trust, Cameron Abadi asks the question, "How did the West get Qaddafi so wrong?"

Seeking an answer to that question on today's All Things Considered, co-host Robert Siegel asks Abadi, "Is the long answer 'oil?'"

"That is certainly the shortest possible answer," Abadi says.

Since 2004, both Britain and Italy have made deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars with Libya. And since then, Gadhafi has both visited the United States and attended summit meetings for world leaders.

"Tony Blair took the lead in re-establishing ties with Gadhafi. And that was controversial in Britain," Abadi says, referring to the delicacy of dealing with memories of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

"But Blair, who also liked to assume the mantle of a moral foreign-policy leader, said it's time to let bygones be byones — and was the first Western leader to make that trip to Lybia, and to shake his hand," Abadi says.

That was back in 2004, just after Gadhafi had pledged that Libya would not pursue a nuclear weapons program.

Drawn by Libya's oil riches, other countries soon sought ways to be more friendly with Libya — or at least, to do more business there. And there were also political gains to be made, Abadi says.

"Aside from the money that was at stake in having ties with Libya, Western countries, I think, also realized that in some respect, it's helpful to have an amoral, or immoral, strongman on your side when you want dirty work to be done on the international stage," Abadi says.

A similar phenomenon was examined earlier this month by NPR — when the autocrats of Tunisia and Egypt came under pressure to leave office.

In the case of Libya, Abadi says that even though the United States didn't form a close relationship with Gadhafi, "we were glad to have his hard-line support in the war on terror, against al-Qaeda. And Europe in particular, was glad to have his brutal methods available when preventing illegal immigrants from reaching European shores."

Here's Abadi writing in Foreign Policy:

But now that Qaddafi's brutality has returned full force — with his giving orders in recent days for indiscriminate attacks on protesters throughout Libya — there are more than a few in the West who may wish they can forget these past several years' worth of photo ops.

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