Politics: A Brief Era of History Is over. Diplomacy, Compromise and Moral Relativism Are Back in Fashion. That's Why Gaddafi Is Our New Friend and Why Prince Charles Has Been to Iran

By Kampfner, John | New Statesman (1996), February 16, 2004 | Go to article overview

Politics: A Brief Era of History Is over. Diplomacy, Compromise and Moral Relativism Are Back in Fashion. That's Why Gaddafi Is Our New Friend and Why Prince Charles Has Been to Iran


Kampfner, John, New Statesman (1996)


Tony Blair welcomes Libya's foreign minister to Downing Street. Prince Charles goes to Tehran for talks with Iran's president. Two huge bombs go off in and around Baghdad, killing up to a hundred people. Compare and contrast: the old-fashioned policy of "constructive engagement" with states we called rogues and the strategic and security disaster that is Iraq.

Diplomacy, the practice of compromise and moral relativism, is back in fashion. The new world order proclaimed after 9/11, the pre-emptive security doctrine fashioned by George W Bush and endorsed by Blair, is fading away. The dual threat of international terrorism and failed states might be as acute as ever, but a weakened president and a weakened prime minister have been forced to retreat to more traditional methods of engaging with awkward foreigners.

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Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the "mad dog of the Middle East" according to Ronald Reagan, will soon host Blair in his desert tent. The British, I am told, would like the visit to take place by June. Both countries have a vested interest in emphasising Libya's decision to divest itself of its weapons of mass destruction. During his recent visit to London, Libya's foreign minister, Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, maintained that his country did have the scientists, the substances and the know-how to develop a nuclear bomb, but had "volunteered" to stop. "If you have flour, water and fire, you do not necessarily make bread," he declared.

The assessment of the UN atomic energy agency, the IAEA, was different. Libya, it said, was still "some years away". Since their deal on 19 December, the British, the Americans and the Libyans have talked up the scale and imminence of Libya's nuclear programme. For Gaddafi, face was saved and a route was opened back into the fold. Bush and Blair needed visible results for their "tough stand" against WMDs.

One officially promulgated myth about Iraq is that the danger posed by nuclear, chemical and biological proliferation was something new. As with human rights, as with WMDs, the Americans and British have long exercised discretion--or double standards. India and Pakistan were gently admonished for going nuclear (while being sold copious conventional weapons by the UK in particular). Israel has never been challenged. North Korea's programme is too far down the line to be stopped by anything but negotiation. Realpolitik has been at work throughout. …

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