February 22, 2011

Qaddafi runs out of realpolitik

It is fitting that members of Libya's UN delegation have resigned in protest against the ongoing slaughter of hundreds of protesters at the hands of Muammar Qaddafi's regime, and that the Security Council is finally convening (privately) to address the situation on the ground. In fairness, the Council first needed to go through the motions on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements, though everyone knew the United States would veto that, anyway.

All this begs the question: Why now? Qaddafi has been a ruthless dictator for four decades. Washington restored relations with Libya a few years ago, when Libya agreed to pay compensation for a string of terrorist attacks including Lockerbie (the bombing of Pan Am 103) and to abandon its dubious nuclear weapons program, while the United Kingdom has sold Libya millions in "crowd-control" equipment

Over the years, it's probable that Qaddafi has supported various insurgent movements across Africa, though in recent years he has supported regional security and the status quo. Just last year, however, behind closed doors, he stunned his fellow Arab leaders by going around the table assigning each a specific number of tanks and jets with which to destroy Israel.

Qaddafi has finally gone too far, even for the Security Council, even for Brazil which holds the rotating presidency of the Council this month, even for Russia, China and the other permanent Council members. Libya's now-former envoys are safe enough in New York, especially with Qaddafi's assassins probably seeking new clients.

Rather than transforming his regime, Qaddafi appealed to the international community's sense of cold realpolitik. That succeeded for a time, but now realpolitik and its incentives have swung around in his face. Isolating Qaddafi may be convenient, and it may be politic in anticipation of his opposition taking power, but it is still the proper course of action.

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