Can Buy Me Love

By Dickey, Christopher | Newsweek, March 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

Can Buy Me Love


Dickey, Christopher, Newsweek


Byline: Christopher Dickey

How Bush, Blair, and Berlusconi brought Gaddafi in from the cold.

The tale is a sordid one, but let's at least begin in relatively pleasant surroundings, among the leather armchairs of the Travellers Club in London. Its rooms have been a favorite rendezvous since the 19th century for gentlemen of international intrigue--and it's where Libya's urbane, white-haired spymaster, Musa Kusa, met with representatives of British and American intelligence in December 2003. Their purpose was to hammer out a deal to bring Kusa's boss, Muammar Gaddafi, in from the cold.

Kusa, now Libya's foreign minister, affects none of the silly props and pretenses--the tents and turbans and meandering rants--that have become Gaddafi's trademarks. Kusa got his master's degree at Michigan State University in the 1970s, and both his children, born in the United States, are American citizens. "He ought to understand our ways," says an American intelligence officer who dealt with him in the 1990s. And he does. It's Kusa's grasp of Western ways that has made him so effective in his primary role as Gaddafi's enabler, aiding and abetting the Libyan leader's pathological behavior. Kusa concocts excuses, fends off consequences, comes up with compromises, and thus far has managed to keep his kinsman in power no matter what crimes the Libyan leader has committed against his own people or against the world. But what's really disturbing is the roster of world leaders he helped to enlist as his fellow enablers: men like Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, Gordon Brown, and even George W. Bush.

How did they end up collaborating with the once and future international pariah? The West's reconciliation with Gaddafi disconcerted even the likes of former CIA director George Tenet, whose memoir, At the Center of the Storm, called the negotiations with Kusa "illustrative of the surreal world in which we had to operate." According to Tenet, many in the agency actually suspected Kusa of masterminding the 1988 bombing that blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people. But by 2003, Western intelligence services had grown as comfortable with Kusa's proposals as they were in the leather armchairs of the Travellers--and they helped Western leaders feel that way, too.

It was a deal none of them could resist. Libya's oilfields would be fully opened up to the West, and U.S. and European banks and corporations could resume tapping the country's revenue stream. And Gaddafi would publicly renounce his putative nuclear-development program (much of which had never even been uncrated). Having invaded Iraq in search of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration could claim that in Libya, at least, its efforts were bearing fruit. The plan seemed to have something for everyone--everyone, it eventually turned out, except the Libyan people.

Kusa's rehab campaign relied heavily on the West's craving for Libya's oil and cash, but he used other levers as well. For one thing, there was the weakness of some democratic leaders for useful tyrants--the kind who could gather intelligence on Al Qaeda in ways that might make many Americans squeamish, as Gaddafi did for Bush, and who could forcibly stem the flood of illegal immigrants across the Mediterranean to Italy, as Gaddafi did for Berlusconi. The regime offered some grand gestures, in addition: $10 million for each of the families that lost someone at Lockerbie; the surrender of the accused bombers to face trial in the Netherlands; and when that wasn't enough to win full acceptance by Washington, the much-touted nuclear deal. And the regime trotted out one of Gaddafi's sons as its unofficial spokesman--the British-educated Saif al-Islam, a relatively charming fellow by comparison with the old man.

The strategy worked brilliantly for all participants--until recently, anyway. The deal doesn't seem to have hurt the negotiators, either. …

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