VALLETTA, MALTA – With Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime in ruins and Qaddafi himself on the run, it is time to ponder just how he survived in power for so long. Greed for markets and money, it seems, often trumped the West’s supposed concern for basic human rights.
Major Western countries compromised themselves over Libya for decades. After all, Qaddafi survived President Ronald Reagan’s punitive 1986 bombing raid on his compound only because former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and former Maltese Prime Minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici tipped him off.
Craxi, of course, later found refuge in the embrace of another recently fallen Arab dictator, Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, when he fled Italy to escape imprisonment in 1992. Bonnici, for his part, continued cementing his ties with the Libyan dictator until the very end, through his association with – wait for it – the Qaddafi Prize for Human Rights.
Moral squalor also permeated Qaddafi’s international “rehabilitation” in the years just before the Arab Spring. According to many observers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s role in launching this process in 2004 was, almost from the start, motivated by a desire to do business with his regime.
And more than oil was at stake. According to an Associated Press report, citing Foreign Office statistics, Libya purchased from the United Kingdom “about £40 million ($55 million) worth of military and paramilitary equipment in the year ending September 30, 2010.” Qaddafi’s shopping list included “sniper rifles, bulletproof vehicles, crowd-control ammunition, and tear gas.” Certainly, that military hardware came in handy over the last six months.