So this politics post is dedicated to pure hearsay and strange rumors that I’ve been hearing bits of lately. As a latest reference I’ll just point people in the vague direction of debka, a notorious rumor mill if there ever was one, but a lot of this has been showing up in a wide variety of channels – NY Times, IHT, and so on. The point of this is mostly to mull over strange ideas.
The first big wacky thing is Libya. About a year ago, Qaddafi seems to have decided that he’s taking a completely different strategy w.r.t the rest of the world – he started openly advocating peace, pushing for various initiatives between the Israelis and Palestinians, between the Americans and the Iraqis, and so on. In the rush-up to war in the US he was mostly ignored, but it was pretty odd at the time to hear a man not famous for having all his bolts intact come up and publicly suggest extremely reasonable peace propositions.
More recently, of course, there’s been his highly public renunciation of nuclear weapons, (one which I actually believe, unlike that of certain other countries – although that’s mostly because I’m pretty sure he realized he was too far behind in his nukes program for it to be worth pushing all the way to the end, and he could get more by dumping it) his continuing leadership in various Arab and North African councils and organizations, his making a compensation to victims of a 1989 plane bombing and now some rumors of significant peace overtures with Israel and the Palestinians.
A year ago, had anyone told me this, I would assume that they had been smoking something very, very powerful. But after a year straight of hearing him consistently act this way, I’m starting to suspect something else: He’s had some sort of inspiration or experience, and has actually decided to take a completely different tack in dealing with the world. From the most pragmatic perspective, this could be a way for him to establish Libya as a significant power in the Arab world by becoming a leader that can be popular among Arabs (re: his established record) Europeans (re: his deals with France and England and so on, the nuke matter, and their general friendliness to any Arab power willing to be less than openly hostile – and even some that aren’t) and even America and Israel. If he could pull this off, he could move the power center of the Islamic world into Libya in a way that it hasn’t been since Berber tribesmen were the backbone of the westward expansion of the empire for a few centuries in the Middle Ages. From a less pragmatic perspective, he may have ideas about his role in history and his standing in the world, or even have messianic dreams of some sort – which shouldn’t be ruled out entirely, since I could name more than one leader of a western power about whom the same could be said.
On the other hand, this could be part of some enormously complicated plot. If so, he’s certainly becoming a master of what Frank Herbert called spannungsbogen – “the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing,” the depth to which the bow is drawn before the arrow is fired. But I find this suspect simply because I can recall very, very few cases in politics of any country taking these sorts of steps, and risking this much political exposure and forfeiture of actual power for so long, for a goal. If he can actually do that he’s a dangerous son of a bitch.
And on a separate note, there’s the question of chemical weapons in Iraq, whether they ever existed or not. There’s been some stories about a Dutch team finding some shells with blister gas buried in the Iraqi desert, but these shells are few in number and old enough that I wouldn’t put any money on their ability to fire without just exploding in the gun. If anyone tries to argue these as casus belli, it’s going to take an amazing effort to keep a straight face – not that it would surprise me.
But the rumors continue that Iraq transferred a large part of its weapons stock to Syria before the war, and they were buried beneath the sands. On 5 Jan, a Syrian journalist who defected to Europe reported in the Dutch journal De Telegraaf (Appropriate babblefish-type engine here; Debka’s report on this in English here) details about where Iraqi weapons (he claims) were buried inside Syria. These rumors have been going around for a while, and they have a certain valid smell to them – plus they’d explain a lot about the nature of US-Syrian relations since the war (that steady, almost-threat) and match with a lot of the other odd contacts between Syria and Iraq in the past few years.
The question in my mind is, now that Iraq is fallen and it looks like nobody’s going to be coming back to pick up those weapons for some time to come, what’s Bashir al-Assad going to do with them? He can’t just pull them out – that would be a quick ticket to suicide, with the Americans next door – but they could be sold in small amounts, and they’re an interesting emergency reserve in case he decides to go to war with Israel – a counter to a nuclear threat, or to any serious counterattack like happened in the 6 days’ war. (There the Israeli army was well on its way to Damascus when the order came to stop; what would al-Assad do in that situation today, with chemical weapons on hand? Of course, the Israeli army knows this, so any putative war would be very different – even faster, perhaps, and more deadly)
Anyway, these are just random political thoughts for the day. And now, back to the lab for me – time to test systems. Fun fun.