January 12, 2004
MIAMI - Just before New Year, President George Bush and Britain's PM Tony Blair staged a brilliant and breathtakingly cynical political coup.
After eight months of secret negotiations with Washington and London, Libya's strongman, the flamboyant and eccentric Col. Muammar Khadaffi grandly proclaimed his nation was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction (wmd's).
Bush, his neo-conservative supporters, and the US media crowed that Khadaffi's surrender confirmed the wisdom of invading Afghanistan and Iraq. The evil Khadaffi had been cowed by Anglo-American military mighty into giving up his arsenal of deadly wmd's. Other `rogue' states would hasten to follow Libya's lead. Who cares if there were no wmd's or links to al-Qaida in Iraq. The end justified the means.
But on closer inspection, there was much less to this drama than met the eye. Khadaffi, in fact, had no weapons of mass destruction, contrary to the claims of the Bush Administration.
According to UN inspectors and European intelligence sources, Libya had only small amounts of World War I technology mustard gas, a primitive battlefield weapon. It had no biological or nuclear weapons. Libya had no means of delivering wmd's beyond some rusting Scud-B missiles with only 180 miles range and some decrepit, short-ranged fighter-bombers.
Libya possessed an assortment of nuclear junk: a small research reactor, some lab equipment, and a few inoperative, third-hand centrifuges reportedly bought from Pakistan or Malaysia. There was no sign, at least so far, of any capability to make or deliver weapons of mass destruction.
When I was in Libya interviewing Col. Khadaffi, I found there was not a single elevator repairman in the entire country. Bakers had to be imported from Egypt to make bread. Seventy percent of Libya's military equipment was broken down. In short, tiny, backward Libya, with a population of only 5 million, had no military capability.
However, in the 1980's, oil-rich Libya certainly did fund all sorts of violent revolutionary groups and was implicated in the bombings of a French UTA and US Pan Am airliner.
After 17 years of punishing sanctions against Libya, which have wrecked its economy, Khadaffi sought to mend relations with the west by paying heavy reparations for the downed airliners while not admitting guilt and handing over for trial two agents involved in the 1988 PAN AM bombing.
Now, by pretending to eliminate wmd's he does not actually possess, the colonel has given a huge political bonus to Bush and Blair, a way for them to evade censure for shamelessly lying their nations into the Iraq War.
They will reward Khadaffi's by halting efforts to overthrow him, slowly lifting sanctions, and allowing US and British oil firms to resume exploiting Libya's high-grade oil. That's politics, at its most cynical.
CIA helped Khadaffi into power in 1969. In the 1980's, the US, Britain and France each tried to assassinate him. Now, it seems the flamboyant colonel with nine lives is slated to be re-born as a good Arab and US ally.
Right after the Libyan charade, Washington opened a major new campaign to deprive Pakistan of its nuclear arsenal. The US media trumpeted leaked government reports alleging Pakistan had secretly supplied Iran, North Korea, and Libya with nuclear technology. These reports blurred the lines between exports of civilian and military nuclear technology.
Washington accused Pakistan of being a major nuclear proliferator. Pakistan nervously admitted some of its nuclear scientists may have privately aided neighbor Iran, which has sought nuclear weapons for the past 28 years.
So far, accusations that past or current Pakistani government were involvement with covert nuclear weapons exports remain unproven. A Director General of ISI told me Iran had offered to pay Pakistan's entire defense budget for ten years in exchange for nuclear technology, but Islamabad refused.
Whatever the case, this whole business is worthy of Alice in Wonderland. Who came down from Mount Sinai to ordain that only the US, Russia, Britain, France, China, North Korea, India and Israel are allowed to possess nuclear weapons or sell nuclear technology?
The US is about to build a new generation of earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. China and Russia are working on new nuclear systems.
India is building a very powerful nuclear arsenal and developing intercontinental missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to North America. Israel has sold India advanced nuclear warhead and missile technology, and supplied an advanced biological warfare plant - probably East Asia's largest - to Taiwan.
Muslim nations, it appears, are the only ones not allowed to possess wmd's.
India used to rightly call this `nuclear apartheid' until President Bush allowed Delhi into the nuclear club. Now that Iraq has been crushed, the White House's next targets are clearly Iran and Pakistan. Neither pose any threat to the US, but both are considered high threats by Israel, which exercises remarkable influence over the Bush Administration.
Political and economic pressure on Pakistan will intensify. President Pervez Musharraf, who has been unfailingly responsive to US demands, may soon be asked to place Pakistan's nuclear weapons under joint US-Pakistani control, a prelude to the total elimination of its nuclear arsenal, scientists, and weapons manufacturing capability.
If Bush were really serious about reducing nuclear weapons, as he claims, instead of building more nukes, he should slash America's still huge, quite useless arsenal of thousands of nuclear warheads. That's called leading by example.