Before going further, a sort of disclaimer: I'm doing a lot of simplification here, to keep the length of this post to a reasonable length. I know that each situation I describe is more complicated: I'm sketching out what I see as the gist of what happened.
Oil? Yeah, it's ImportantOn the other hand, I do realize that petroleum is - at present - a vitally-needed resource. It hasn't always been that way, and I think it's only a matter of time before an economically viable alternative to fossil fuels is developed.
It's that need for oil that turned the Middle East into a prosperous place. For the leaders, at any rate. There's nothing wrong with becoming wealthy: as far as I'm concerned. But it does bring changes. And that can be stressful.
It Hasn't Been All Beef and Skittles for the Middle EastWestern civilization started in the Middle East, thousands of years go, but the area has, for one reason or another, stayed out of the mainstream for the last half-millennium or so. That wasn't the best time to drop out. The last five centuries, from the time of Henry VII of England to Barack Obama of America, have seen quite a lot of change.
People whose cultures and customs had been ancient when Abraham moved out of Ur, and who hadn't been forced to change much since, were abruptly confronted with a world of routine transoceanic flights, individual rights, and satellite feeds with hundreds of television channels bringing a world of Barbies, soap operas, bikinis, Mickey Mouse, Ex-Lax, and Budweiser into their communities.
No wonder some of them flipped.
I think I understand some of the reasons that Al Qaeda repurposed airliners as King-Kong-Size cruise missiles. That doesn't mean I approve.
Negotiating With Terrorists: Maybe Not the Best IdeaEver since the terrorists/patriotic heroes/lions of Islam calling themselves Black September took Olympic athletes hostage in Munich. German authorities decided to be nice, reasonable people: and entered into negotiations.
Then, agreeing to arrange transportation for the terrorists to Cairo, the Germans set up what was "probably one of the worst planned acts in the history of military special operations." (Munich Massacre)
From some descriptions, I think the verb "planned" represents a generous and optimistic assessment. By the time the fires were put out and the smoke cleared, the terrorists were dead - and so were the hostages. There are pretty good odds that some of the hostages had been killed by German forces.
On a more positive note, although the terrorists had definitely intended to kill the hostages, German forces almost certainly hadn't had that in mind.
That was 1972. If my memory serves, by that time "skyjackers" had developed a risky but rewarding business. They'd hijack an airliner, demand something, get it, and leave.
After the little dust-up at the Munich Olympics, the idea of not negotiating with terrorists caught on.
I think there's something to be said for it - and against it. I could argue either side, but I'm inclined to think that a policy of not rewarding undesired behavior is sensible. And when 'negotiation' means finding out what terrorists want, and providing it: that's rewarding undesired behavior.
Libya, The United Kingdom, Negotiations, and a Libyan TerroristI know: Not everybody thinks Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is a terrorist. I'll admit to a bias: I don't approve of blowing up an airliner with people in it, and dropping the lot on a village. That's not nice.
The point is, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi played an important role in setting up the murder of hundreds of people in the sky over Lockerbie. He was sprung recently on 'compassionate' grounds, so that he could go back to Libya, get a hero's welcome, and die in peace, surrounded by the adulation due someone who was responsible for mass murder. In Libya, anyway.
Looks like the fuss isn't over.
According to the London Times, Libya and BP (British Petroleum, I take it) were negotiating for rights to explore part of Libya, looking for oil. Libya wouldn't play ball unless some of its terrorists were released.
Then al-Megrahi was released and - presto chango! - BP got the rights.
Judging from what I saw in the Times, there's a lot of politics involved. Naturally. Eventually, it may be possible to sort out what actually happened and whether or not there was some sort of deal.
Do I like what I read? Not at all.
Do I really believe that the U.K. sold out to Libya? I haven't a clue: there's nothing to go on but a leaked letter, a whacking great coincidence, and speculation.
Am I satisfied, being uncertain about what happened? No: but life's like that. I've learned to deal with not knowing everything.
Do I think what Great Britain did was, on the whole, prudent? Short run, maybe: they got the oil deal they wanted. Long run: maybe not. This smells like the Barbary pirates situation: and I really do not think anyone wants to go through that again.
This sort of decision isn't limited to British leaders. One of the reasons I'm profoundly grateful that I don't have to lead America or any other country is that leadership means being faced with difficult decisions.
The trick, I think, to making non-disastrous decisions is to develop a sane set of priorities, and consider long-term consequences. Easier said than done, I'm afraid.
- "Lockerbie Bomber: Hero's Welcome in Libya Follows Compassionate Release"
(August 21, 2009)
- "Iraq's Soft Surge; Pakistan and the Taliban: Weekend News and History"
(May 10, 2009)
- Sometimes the trick is negotiating with the right people
- "Barbary Pirates, Tribute, and Tripoli"
(November 12, 2007)
- "Congress Must Decide Who to Protect Americans From"
(August 5, 2007)
- "Lockerbie bomber 'set free for oil' "
Times Online (August 30, 2009 )
1 Yeah: Jesuit assassins. You can't make this sort of thing up. I ran into references to Jesuit assassins while researching a post for another blog. Tony Alamo and others express rather colorful views about what they apparently see as a vast conspiracy involving the Catholic Church.
There's even, they reveal, a black pope! In that, actually, they're right. Sort of. No, there isn't another pope right now: but "black pope" is a nickname of the head of the Jesuit order. Jesuits, the Society of Jesus, is quite influential, and their uniform is black.