Most of the news coming out of Libya these days has to do with the HIV case, but there are some interesting coincident developments on the Libya-US front that are probably worth rescuing from the deluge.
--> Monday, July 9th:
Bush's Homeland Security Advisor, Frances Townsend, goes to Tripoli to hand deliver a letter from Bush to Gaddafi. The visit came on the eve of announcing the Libyan Supreme Court ruling on the HIV case. Only some parts of the letter were made public, mainly standard diplomatic platitudes about Gaddafi's historic surrender, along with some other soft talk about alleviating the hurdles that stand in the way of stronger US-Libya relations. The publicly identified hurdles are Lockerbie compensations, LaBelle--less audiby perhaps--and the HIV case. That is just diplo-speak that can be said anytime anywhere, and it hardly constitutes good cause for sending a homeland security advisor to discuss them only in the tightest circle of security.
--> Tuesday, July 10th:
1. The Libyan Supreme Court upholds the death sentence in a ruling that was welcomed as a harbinger of good news, ushering in the transfer of the case to the extra-judicial body called Supreme Council for the Judiciary (go figure) that has the power to commute, pardon, or whatever.
2. Libyan opposition publish an unconfirmed report of suicide bombers attacking security establishments in the eastern cities of al-Beydha and Benghazi, killing several security personnel. MO: Boo!
--> Wednesday, July 11th
Bush nominates Gene Cretz to the post of ambassador to Libya, to be confirmed by the senate. Again the same diplo-speak is repeated by the Bush administration, along with some saber rattling by democrat senators about the hurdles that stand in the way.
Little side note: In Arabic, Gene and Jean are spelled the same way. Consequently, Mr. Cretz the ambassdor became Ms. Cretz the ambassadora in some Arabic media, lol lol, and the whole comic affair reminded me of Pat on Saturday Night Live. If the lazy asses bothered to perform any kind of search, they would have known quickly that Cretz is from the he variety, and heeeee enjoys a number of interesting qualifications. Cretz is Jewish--very Jewish, one might say. As the number 2 US diplomat in Tel Aviv, he represented the US at the memorial service of Simon Wiesenthal, where he spoke of his grandfather's sad memories of friends who died in Auschwitz, as well as delightful memories of seeing Eichman on trial in Israel. Before his post in Tel Aviv, Cretz also held posts in Damascus and in Cairo. Interestingly, I read somewhere that while in Cairo, Mr. Cretz was one of the US officials who reportedly ignored Saddam Hussein's acceptance/capitulation to Bush's midnight hour ultimatum, according to a former Saddam advisor named Shaltout, who is now a Canadian citizen.
Back on track: Remember the Bush position on the HIV case: "Send them home!" Nothing about fair trial, nothing about a particular judicial ruling, just find a way send them home. After all the vacillations, it will all unfold as he "requested."
--> July 16
Libyan opposition publishes another unconfirmed report of an al-Qaeda style (there, I said it) attack on police/security in Benghazi. More details are given this time, including quotes by an unnamed Libyan security official speaking of similarity to the mid 1990's activities by Libyan Islamists, back from a Jihad tour in Afghanistan, but this time they are younger and more mobile, suspected of using text messaging for communications, and some of them are believed to be heading to Tripoli to target some oil and gas pipelines and foreign professionals working in the oil sector. The report also says the Libyan government is reacting by intensifying its security presence around certain business and government centers, banning parking near some big buildings, etc.
--> July 17--busy day
After a short delay, the Libyan council commutes the death sentence to a life sentence. Talk starts about handing over the convicts on the basis of some 1980's extradition agreement between Bulgaria and Libya. Once handed over, they become subject to Bulgarian legal discretion, which is expected to yield a presidential pardon.
Frances Townsend, remember her? She popped up in a telephone interview with Reuters, making a number of statements about her visit, some of them carefully crafted, and some that came directly from her were completely idiotic. She claims she was not sure "the leader" would meet her, which is crafty language meant to stroke Gaddafi's ego and make him look like he has the upper hand in these talks, if you ask me. Townsend was first met by a trio: deputy foreign minister, the head of intelligence, and the national security advisor (Gaddafi's son.) Then, as the dramatized news reports put it, she went and sat at the American offices waiting...Oooh, the suspense! They didn't add that she was biting her nails or powdering her sweat drenched face, or breathing heavily, or anything like that. You gotta give them credit. But the cheap show goes on to say, "word came" (from up in the Heavenly Throne, no doubt) that she would meet the leader "and she was taken alone to a tent... (Yes, that's Aladdin music in the background) where she met with Gaddafi, his head of intelligence and a translator. In other words, the Libyans tried to give her the old brush off, but she insisted on the terms of her meeting, and she got what she wanted, diplo-drama not withstanding. She told Reuters that parts of the letter she carried were undisclosed to the public intentionally. No kidding! And those undisclosed parts of the letter presumably justify the need for a security official to carry it, as opposed to a diplomatic mule. We get a hint about those parts from Townsend's statements to the press.
"We'd like to establish a more permanent presence in Libya. We need to find land and build an embassy there," but this will take time, Townsend said.
And speaking of commuting the death sentence of the convicted medics, she said, "It is a positive development and we hope that it's the beginning of getting these nurses home."
But here is more deal sweeteners:
"We believe that there are senior Libyan al Qaeda operatives that is in al Qaeda's core," she said.
"It has been our understanding that while we would like to see a greater strengthening of our counterterrorism relationship, so would Gaddafi."
Aha! Common fears? Yeah, that's what makes lasting alliances, huh?
Same Day, 7/17: Egyptian opposition paper al-Wafd, quoting anonymous official sources, says one Libyan was arrested and another being pursued in connection with the threatened bombing of the subway. The two Libyans, in case you're in a betting mood, are of course said to be "members of al-Qaeda." Damn, who would've guessed that? We need a new acronym for that everyday phrase, how about MOQ?
Also on this day, Libyan opposition site publishes another unconfirmed report of large security force chasing two "armed youth" in Benghazi, one arrested and one blew himself up.
And one more: Another Libyan opposition site announces that, in response to news of movement of armed elements from eastern Libya to Tripoli with threats against foreign professionals in the oil and gas sector, Libyan government appointed a General Faraj Busilyana to be in charge of the "Foreign Professionals Beach" east of Tripoli. General is not a common Libyan name, but having a military officer in charge of a beach is very Libyan.
--> July 18
1. Egyptian minstry of the interior (i.e., government) denies reports of arresting Libyan MOQ or any MOQs for that matter. Remember, the reports came out on an opposition paper. But the gov said they are running a sweep through subway stations... just reacting to common fears, I suppose.
2. A different Libyan opposition site seconds the July 17th report of a violent clash with two armed youth in Benghazi, adding that 2 security officers were killed and 5 injured when one of the two exploded himself. The other youth was wounded and placed in custody. They add that an area of Benghazi known as "the junkyard" was surrounded by security forces after finding eight machine guns, some hand grenades and explosive belts, along with some mobile phone cards from "various Arab countries." You think they mean Egypt? They didn't give that detail, but they did up the ante by saying the security also found some computer CDs (hidden in the junkyard where they're more easily disguised than, say, an office?) The CDs of course had lists of former and current security officials and government loyalists, i.e. presumed targets, and they gave some of those names. Didn't have the names of the Arab countries where the phone cards were obtained, but the names in files in CD's? Sure, we got those!
OK, what does it all mean?
There is a dangerous game of carrots and fear mongering going on. The Bush administration wants to have a permanent (very visible) presence in North Africa. They already appointed a general to head up AFRICOM, the Africa Command Center, who's a sharp-dressed black man with nowhere to go. Bush has been shopping around for a place but without much evident success. We heard about Morocco, Kenya, etc., but nothing firm. At the same time, it is no secret that the Iraq model is a miserable failure and patience in the US is running out, even among republicans, who are especially worried with presidential elections on the horizon and the high potential of losing the presidency after congress to the Democrats.
Dubya needs to pull another rabbit out of his ass like the one he pulled for the last presidential election, which came forward in a colorful caftan, wisely offering what the Bush machine could not get in Iraq. Bush looks over the barren terrain and says, why don't we go back to the same well? Last time, there was the stick of arresting another boogeyman and that worked wonders in Libya. This time, let's try some carrots--cautiously: appoint an ambassador, but a provocative choice is better. Have the Saudi controlled al-Sharq al-Awsat quote an unnamed--Libyan--official saying that when the nurses go home, it could open the door to a--historic--visit by Condi later this month that might include an invitation for Gaddafi to make a--historic--visit to the White House. The leak comes complete with promises of full accommodations, as it makes explicit reference to pitching a tent on the White House lawn.
Libya, once again, will be the new model, the political success to make up for the total failure in Iraq. America will get its land and establish a presence in Tripoli that can best be described as "diplotary," an embassy with a seaport, an airport and lots of counterterrorist diplomatic guards... maybe even using the site of the old Wheelus Air Base. Wouldn't that be a wise historic decision for "the leader" to make? From foe to ally in the war against terror... but there needs to be some convincing of people of the validity of the common goals. Gaddafi might also need to lay the groundwork internally, especially after what can easily be seen as giving in to western pressures on the HIV case. Bring in the boogeyman, the multinational Qaeda, Inc., which is credited with unprecedented superpowers. Their funding channels have been cut off, their logistics debilitated, but they somehow are able to pass themselves through cell phones signals or something, then machine guns and explosives just pop out of their rear ends. But I guess another lesson learned from Iraq is to bring in the boogeyman before the armed forces, not the other way around.
But wait. Who's that I see chomping at the bit to beat Condi to Tripoli?
Oh, Monsieur Sarkozy, entrez s'il vous plait! His carrots are julienned, fully organic, and healthier for the average donkey. He, of course, has his own agenda for North Africa, one that he was out peddling recently to Libya's neighbors but not Libya itself. In fact, Libya tried to play spoiler in advance of his visits. Now, Sarkozy is on the horn with Gaddafi on a daily basis almost, welcoming the decisions on the HIV case and promising/denying/promising again to be in Tripoli next week if it moves "the HIV case" forward. His wife was there on an unannounced flash visit in which she saw "the leader" not once but twice. I guess the French also figured out that females have a higher probability of meeting the leader. But will Sarkozy beat Condi? It remains to be seen. I just hope we don't see any more convincing with live ammo.