- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Watching Libyan Leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi speak at the United Nations in late September was equivalent to getting teeth pulled out at the dentist’s office. Sadly, the latter would’ve been a lot more enjoyable.

Since 1979, Col. Gadhafi has ruled Libya with an iron fist. In the past, he repeatedly spoke out against Western democracies, especially the United States and Israel. He condemned the concepts of democracy, capitalism and freedom. He consistently opposed multiparty elections. He supported and helped train terrorist groups such as Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Abu Nidal Organization. He even gave money to the families of suicide bombers.

In December 2003, Col. Gadhafi had a jaw-dropping change of heart. He decided to forsake his weapons of mass destruction and allowed United Nations weapons inspectors into his country for the first time. By rejecting global terrorism, he became a new, full-fledged convert to the side of liberal democracy and individual rights and freedoms.

But to call Col. Gadhafi a liberal democrat, or a freedom fighter, just doesn’t roll off the tongue without some choking and gagging along the way. Yet those are exactly the labels the Libyan dictator wants us to associate with his name - and that’s exactly why the United Nations tolerated his rambling, illogical and, at times, disturbing 90-minute rant.

At a 2007 celebration honoring the 28th anniversary of the Libyan Jamahiriyah (popular republic), Col. Gadhafi said people have to let “freedoms blossom,” and have “the full freedom to choose useful and fruitful work … to learn and carry out scientific search and the freedom of faith.”

He also said people have “the full economic freedom of what to do and where to invest. Every one has the freedom to establish social and economic enterprises of his liking and interest.”

True to form, however, Col. Gadhafi went on to say that American, British and Italian citizens were living “under the yoke of dictatorships.” He invited representatives from these countries to visit Libya, the world’s - wait for it - “only genuine democracy.”

It’s hard to know what to make of Col. Gadhafi’s current public image. He may be undergoing a slow political transformation that will ultimately create a democratic Libyan state, but he’s more likely trying to save his hide from an American-led military attack.

In the April 1, 2005, edition of the now-defunct New York Sun, reporter Eli Lake revealed some troubling information about Libya and chemical weapons. As noted in an unclassified report of the 10-member Silberman-Robb Commission, “It is clear that Libya has been considerably less forthcoming about the details of its chemical and biological weapons efforts than about its nuclear and missile programs.”

Meanwhile, the report also mentioned that Libya is no longer a high priority for U.S. intelligence surveillance. Reportedly only one CIA analyst is left tracking Col. Gadhafi’s once-troublesome missile program. Yet when one considers human rights abuses in Libya, including the lack of medical care for ill human rights activist Fathi el-Jahmi, as well as an FBI report that Col. Gadhafi would pay for the assassination of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Libya should remain at the top of the list for collecting intelligence.

Sadly, there may be a very simple reason to explain the current ambivalence with Libya - to prevent a repeat performance with Cuba.

In 1959, Fidel Castro gave away huge pockets of land to the peasants and nationalized the phone company. But the land and phone company were both owned by American corporations. The United States threatened to remove its technology and industry, which would cripple the Cuban economy. When Mr. Castro ignored this threat, orders for Cuban sugar decreased.

This caused a huge split between Mr. Castro and President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Mr. Castro made a deal to sell its sugar to the Soviet Union and obtain the weapons and technology the United States refused to give them. Eisenhower was left with no alternative but to stop all sugar purchases with Cuba and declare Mr. Castro a communist sympathizer who had to be overthrown.

In Col. Gadhafi’s case, the Obama White House, like the Bush White House before, sees a tyrant who appears willing to reform his past ways. Senior officials surely don’t trust him, but they must provide some form of trust - or Mr. Gadhafi will march back into the camp of international terrorism.

Can Col. Gadhafi be trusted? For democracy’s sake, and the success of the war on terrorism, we had better hope so. But as a public speaker who needs to meet time restrictions, Col. Gadhafi still has a long way to go.

Michael Taube is a former speech writer for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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