U.S. should enlist Libya’s help

Marketplace Staff Dec 11, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: There are days, days like today, when it seems oil fuels everything — including the news cycle. Commentator Benjamin Barber has a proposal to simplify America’s energy problems. He was in Libya recently at the invitation of Muammar Quaddafi. He came away thinking we might just be able to make a deal.

BENJAMIN BARBER: Right before our invasion of Iraq, Libya did an about-face. It gave up its nuclear program and its long-term sponsorship of terrorism. It’s been waiting ever since to be enlisted as an ally in the war on terrorism. My idea? Enlist it.

What? Lockerbie Libya, our ally? The country hasn’t yet made full restitution to the victims? Be friends with Colonel Quaddafi, the revolutionary who overthrew the Libyan monarchy in 1969 and embarked on a terrorist career?

Yep, that’s what I’m saying. Things change.

See, Libya and the United States share converging self-interests. Libya’s got oil totaling at least one-eighth of Saudi Arabia’s reserves and its natural gas is low-sulfur pure. We could use it.

Quaddafi does have an agenda. He wants more economic development. Who wouldn’t want to develop tourism along 2,000 kilometers of pristine Mediterranean beaches?

And, we’ve got a problem: the Wahabbist Muslims are Islam’s most radical sect. They’re closely connected with terrorist ideology and anti-Western deeds.

But Saudi Arabia, our primary source of oil and our close “ally” in the Middle East, is Wahabbism’s homestead and primary funder. We can’t seriously engage Wahabbism without coming down hard on the Saudis — something our oil politics won’t permit.

Enter Libya: it also sees Wahabbist fundamentalism as a grave threat to its secular government. It distrusts elements of Saudi Arabia. And it has enough oil, natural gas, and good will from oil-rich countries like Nigeria to help offset a possible Saudi oil cutoff.

Libya’s not poor. Its literacy rate is 65 percent. And Quaddafi is working on a participatory democratic governance system based on his own 1970s Greenbook and on democratic economic reforms, too. That’s just what we want in that part of the world, remember?

Yes, Quaddafi has to finish paying the families of the Lockerbie victims. But Libya is a whole lot more promising than the disaster that is Iraq’s democratic experiment. And a far more likely ally in curbing terrorism than nuke-seeking, Hezbollah-hyping Iran. It’s time to turn the page.

RYSSDAL: Benjamin Barber runs the non-profit Democracy Collaborative.

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