Welcome to Gaddafi's mad, mad world

What amazes me is Blair's choice of fall-guy: one of the weirdest, battiest, deadliest Arab dictators of them all
Click to follow
The Independent Online

We live, as the Arabs say, in interesting times. Today, our Prime Minister flies to Libya to pay homage at the court of Gaddafi. The man blamed for blasting two airliners - one American, one French - out of the sky, for sending weapons to the IRA, for invading Chad, killing a young British policewoman, murdering political opponents at home and abroad, who has himself been bombed by both the United States and Egypt, is to play host to our dear Prime Minister. Gaddafi of the Green Book meets Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara. I cannot wait.

We live, as the Arabs say, in interesting times. Today, our Prime Minister flies to Libya to pay homage at the court of Gaddafi. The man blamed for blasting two airliners - one American, one French - out of the sky, for sending weapons to the IRA, for invading Chad, killing a young British policewoman, murdering political opponents at home and abroad, who has himself been bombed by both the United States and Egypt, is to play host to our dear Prime Minister. Gaddafi of the Green Book meets Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara. I cannot wait.

Is it only the Arabs, I wonder, who have been asking the obvious question: how desperate can Mr Blair be to toady up to Gaddafi? Not that the Arabs dislike Gaddafi. They have a sneaking admiration for the man who walks out of the Arab League because it is irrelevant, who makes fun of his fellow Arab leaders for their pomposity, who survives all America's attempts to get rid of him - the 1985 US air raids were also intended to assassinate the Great Leader but killed his adopted daughter instead - even if he did once deport half the Palestinian refugees in Libya and told them to walk back to Palestine.

Like Saddam, Gaddafi has even unburdened himself of a work of literature - old monsters, it seems, tend to write epics in their dotage - which is called Escape to Hell and Other Stories. It should be essential reading on Air Blair today. I would certainly recommend a browse through the chapter entitled "Is Communism Truly Dead?" which suggests that a number of extraordinary events may occur now that the Soviet Union has collapsed.

These include the possibility that "some people in the Christian world might become aware of the fact that Christ's crucifying himself for their sakes is a historical falsehood", a German "Fourth Reich" lording it over Britain and America, and Israelis distributed throughout the Arab world, "putting their expertise at the service of the Arabs, because this will be one million times better than their staying in Palestine..." Reflecting on Death, he asks if the Grim Reaper is male or female - Gaddafi seems to favour the latter. But then, would we expect anything else from the man who surrounds himself with a bevy of heavily armed female commandos as his "security team"?

Indeed, I recall an Arab summit in Cairo a few years ago at which - after arriving in a golden robe escorted by his gun-toting women - Gaddafi greeted President Mubarak and promptly pretended to confuse a public lavatory with the door of the conference chamber. I shall always remember Mubarak's thin, suffering smile. Lord Blair of Kut, sitting perhaps in Gaddafi's famous tent, will be able to practice that same thin smile today.

At least he won't have to suffer the embarrassment of Tito's old head of protocol who told me how Gaddafi once arrived in Belgrade with a plane load of camels for his fresh milk and a white charger upon which he intended to ride in triumph to the non-aligned summit in the Yugoslav capital. This is the same man who supported a bi-national state for Palestinians and Israelis called Isratine. No wonder Jack Straw now calls Gaddafi "statesman".

Of course, it's not difficult to see what lies behind today's charade. Having taken his country to war on a cocktail of lies and distortion, Lord Blair must commit yet another fraud by claiming that the "defanging" of Libya is a direct result of the illegal invasion of Iraq - and thus justifies the whole disastrous occupation of Mesopotamia. I don't blame him for trying. Anyone with the conscience which our PM should be suffering is bound to search for a get-out. What does amaze me is his choice of fall-guy: one of the weirdest, battiest, funniest, deadliest Arab dictators of them all.

Nor does the narrative of history make our Prime Minister's voyage to the Orient any saner. First of all, he sends our soldiers into Iraq because Saddam has weapons of mass destruction which no longer exist; then he pays a social call on Libya because Gaddafi really has had weapons of mass destruction all along. Or has he?

For one of the strangest elements to the Libyan saga is the newness of all those centrifuges and nuclear gizmos which the UN, the Brits and the Americans have been "finding" in Gaddafistan. Were they really there for decades? When did Gaddafi decide to install them? And how come the US intelligence service - which could identify non-existent railroad chemical weapons labs in Iraq - failed to pick up the radiation from Gaddafi's supposed nuclear programme? It was a humble Independent reader - thank you, Willy McCourt of Manchester - who pointed out to me that Libya has a population of only six million; "imagine Ireland having a nuclear programme and nobody knowing about it," he wrote. Quite so.

Now here's another intriguing question. If we can find out when Gaddafi purchased all this stuff, can we also be told when he decided to abandon it? A week later? A year? Or did he decide to give it up before he bought it? In other words, is there some connivance here, some complicity between a man who is tired of his international isolation and another man who is tired of being told - all too truthfully - that he took his country to war on a lie.

It's a good sell, claiming that Gaddafi is giving up his nuclear ambitions because he learned the lesson of Saddam. But Gaddafi was in no danger of being invaded. After the conquest of Iraq, the US administration was blathering on about Syria and Iran, not Libya. Indeed, on the basis that Gaddafi might have had nuclear weapons, he would have been - like the Dear Leader in North Korea - as safe as houses.

It would be nice to have another Downing Street "dossier" on all this. And perhaps Gaddafi - whom our Prime Minister may discover has a disturbing habit of sometimes telling the truth - will enlighten us. I'm sure our civil servants have already written the narrative for him, but our favourite colonel has another disturbing habit which our Prime Minister should be made aware of: he often fails to keep to the text. A worrying example of this came last month when the Libyan prime minister, Shokri Ghanem, blandly announced on the BBC that Libya had not accepted responsibility for the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. Whoops!

Of course, some subjects just won't get a mention when the two great statesmen of East and West sit down in Tripoli. They will not, for example, talk about the US government's 1991 white paper on Libya which blames Gaddafi for not just Lockerbie but the sabotage of UTA Flight 772 over Chad in 1989, the attack on a Greek cruise ship by gunmen based in Libya the same year, the hijacking of the yacht Silco and the abduction of its crew of eight for four years in Libya. Nor will they chat about the secretive Mathaba, which was used to train foreigners in "subversive activities".

There certainly won't be any time wasted in discussing the 1979 public hanging of dissident university students in Benghazi's main square. Nor, I guess, on the fate of the Libyan human rights defender Mansour al-Kikhiya, who "disappeared" while attending a Cairo human rights meeting in 1993 after complaining about Gaddafi's execution of political opponents.

So maybe the two Great Leaders will hit it off. Both, after all, take themselves immensely seriously. As a Libyan opposition group pointed out a decade ago, Gaddafi "would have us believe he is at the vanguard of every human development that has emerged during his lifetime. It is not sufficient for him that he is an absolute ruler with unchecked powers..."

Barring the usual electricity cuts, no one in Baghdad will be watching today's rickety epic with more enthusiasm than I. Whoops! Productions presents Escape to Hell. It promises to be as much fun as Iraq.

Comments