Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
In a violent coup, “Colonel” Muammar Quaddafi took power in 1969 in Libya, a vast expanse of sand atop a vast reservoir of oil across the Mediterranean from Italy. After consolidating power, Quaddafi began actively to support anti-Zionist, anti-Israeli policies, and loudly branded any friend of Israel an enemy of the Arab world. By 1980, Quaddafi had thrown out the U.S. oil companies operating in Libya, and the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Tripoli was ransacked. Quaddafi had also begun, equally loudly, to develop nuclear weapons to use against Israel and her allies, and to support a variety of terrorist organizations. In response, the U.S. cut diplomatic ties with Libya, branded Libya as a terrorist state, and launched air strikes against Libyan targets to show Quaddafi the price of supporting terrorism. Since the mid-1980s, Quaddafi has continued to talk a good pro-Arab, anti-Israel game, but exerted little influence because of his personal reputation as unsteady.
Moreover, his attempts to develop nuclear weapons have met a dead end. Quaddafi sought French and German help with his nuclear program, and his efforts in Paris and Berlin were monitored by U.S. agents who spoke French and German. With 20/20 hindsight, Quaddafi, like the Iranians, should have turned to the Chinese for help; there are very few American agents who speak Chinese as well as Arabic.In 2003, however, Quaddafi reversed himself, renouncing any policies supporting terrorism, a move welcomed by American officials. Just this week, the United States reversed itself, according diplomatic recognition to the Quaddafi regime, to reward Quaddafi for his “continuing commitment to the renunciation of terrorism.” But the restoration of diplomatic ties does not normalize relations with Libya; that’s just a key first step. A critical next step is removing Libya from the list of nations that sponsor terrorism, a move that the Administration has said it will do, but it only can do if it can convince Congress that Quaddafi is serious.The U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism is a short one: Syria, Iran, Yemen, North Korea and Libya. The practical effect of removing Libya from the list is twofold.
First, American companies will be able to do business in Libya legally and with the full benefit of U.S. tax law. Libya’s oil infrastructure is antiquated and crumbling, and Quaddafi must either spend billions of dollars to patch up the old system or spend billions to replace the whole thing with a new system. Either way, the U.S. oil services industry has expertise and experience – the world’s biggest consumer of oil does know a thing or two about producing and delivering oil. Quaddafi needs Bechtel and Halliburton, and they want his money, but Libya’s presence on the terror list prevents them from deducting any expenses for doing business in Libya on their U.S. taxes. In order for Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to further the financial fortunes of their friends in the oil industry, they must get Libya off the terror list. In the interim, diplomatic recognition does mean that U.S. oil companies can, with the full support of the U.S. government, seek compensation for their losses when Quaddafi seized their assets and oil in the 1970s.Is Quaddafi serious, after three decades of supporting terrorism, of completely and totally reversing himself? Probably not; once oil production is modernized he’ll likely throw Halliburton and Bechtel out before paying the bill. But it’s good to know that our leaders will never change their minds.
Despite a tripling of the price of a barrel of oil, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney will never seek a windfall profits tax on oil, or lean on their oil industry friends to build even one gasoline refinery to increase the supply and reduce the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Instead, they’ll continue to shamelessly enhance the personal fortunes of their oil friends through individual tax cuts and subvert their own war on terror to help oil companies. The maxim still holds true – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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