Explaining Shift in Libyan Foreign Policy: Have the Sanctions Worked?
Although little change has been seen in Mu'ammar Qadhafi's heated speeches which historically blame the West and the United States in particular for third world nations' misfortunes, a softer side of the Libyan leadership is emerging for the first time in 30 years. Following its agreement to hand over two bombing suspects wanted for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, a flow of other concessions is also being made visible. Despite the US attempt to continuously demonize Libya's image, it is receiving these changes with optimism. US officials say that the changes are a very good sign, though not yet a convincing one.
Ronald Neumann, a top aide in the State Department's Middle East bureau, told the Associated Press (AP) earlier this week, that change in the US perception of Libya can now be imaginable. Another official, who is known for his advocacy toward reconciliation with Libya, described the handing over of the two suspects as a strong threshold that allows for normalization between the two countries.
It seems as if surrendering the two Libyans accused of terrorism was an attempt to reduce the intensity of the sanctions imposed on Libya as a result of that accusation and of course, US pressure. Instead it was only the start of a changing foreign policy and outlook. That shifting outlook was initiated by Qadhafi's quest to redefine his country's position in the world. The Libyan leader who vowed to move closer to Africa and away from the Arab world couldn't hide his disappointment in his fellow Arabs who made no efforts to bust the costly sanctions. Slowly but steadily, Libya is moving toward reconstructing a new image for itself. The US is becoming aware of that.
One vital step carried out by Qadhafi that scored him valuable points with the American administration was the expelling of the Abu Nidal organization, which has for a long time caused further damage to the Libyan image. Another has been Lybia's distancing itself from organizations recognized by the West as terrorist.
Now Qadhafi is hoping to land an invitation from the European Union for a visit to their headquarters in Brussels. Although the EU response to granting an invitation was disappointing, Qadhafi's request strengthens the theory that Libya has chosen to reconcile and come to terms with those which it once perceived as western conspirators.
How can we explain such a major shift? Several explanations can be offered. One, is the classic explanation that Qadhafi has a very unpredictable personality and that he needs no complicated theories to explain his behavior. Although such reasoning may apply to earlier encounters with Qadhafi, such as the mass deportation of most Palestinians residing in Libya to stress his opposition to Oslo, the timing of the recent changes has to be motivated by other factors. Another explanation could be what the Libyan leader himself suggested -- the frustrating lack of support by Arab governments regarding the sanctions. If that is true, Qadhafi appears to be missing a point that Arab governments are by no means a fair representation of the Arab masses. Therefore losing faith in the regimes offers little or no explanation of why would he lose faith in Arabs, period. And even if we accept such rationale, how can we explain the nature of the Libyan shift, and why that loss of faith translated to a closer relationship with Africa and reconciliation with the West?
The feared explanation in this perplexing story is perhaps what the US would like to believe -- The sanctions have worked. Such an explanation is truly feared because if the US were confident with such an analysis, its sanctions argument worldwide would be strengthened. As a result, the US would defend its sanctions policy by always citing Libya's example. "It worked with Libya why shouldn't work with everyone else", US sanctions enthusiasts might argue. But if the US is determined to believe its own reasons for "Libya's change", countries with a situation similar to the Libyan case should not imagine that short-term concessions are enough to change the US perception of its punishing policy. In the Libyan case, although Libya has shown a great deal of cooperation and patience, the US is still carrying out one-sided sanctions against it. What else is America looking for? One must wonder. Although US officials are explaining their country's constant suspicion and therefore imposed punishment on Libya with the same claims it feeds its sanction elsewhere: to ensure the implementation of UN resolutions, the motive, as always appear to be different. The US government is looking for nothing less than complete submission from Libya. Such a price however, if viewed from all angles, including the dignity and pride of any nation, could be more harmful than the long years of never-ending sanctions.
Topics: Foreign Policy, Libya