Global insight: Revolts expose tawdry policies of west

Extrait de: Global insight: Revolts expose tawdry policies of west, David Gardner in London, FT, February 24 2011

The chain of uprisings across the Arab world plainly caught the US and Europe, as well as allied Arab rulers, on the hop. Comfortably aligned with dictators who ostensibly guaranteed them stability and cheap oil, western leaders dispensed liberal nostrums while checking in their democratic principles at the palace gate or the tent flap.

Their response to Arab revolution is evolving. From the first shocked vacillations between wobble and waffle, western rhetoric has become more assured. Yet the west’s performance still looks inadequate, especially in the face of the increasingly unhinged Muammer Gaddafi.

The Arab crisis has exposed mercilessly the cosiness of links between western and, above all, European leaders and their regional counterparts. The fawning greed with which Britain, France and Italy have sought oil and business opportunities from Colonel Gaddafi’s murderous regime now looks particularly tawdry. Is that only with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight?

Not entirely. The UK, in particular, rushed with indecent haste to the Brother Leader’s tent. Tony Blair’s “deal in the desert”, sold at the time as turning the colonel away from terrorist adventurism and bringing him back into polite geopolitical society, paved the way for a lucrative contract for BP.

Famously, the US and the UK presented Col Gaddafi’s decision to give up his weapons of mass destruction in 2003 as a result of their decision to invade Iraq, where they found no WMD, in spite of the drumbeat of alarmist propaganda and dodgy intelligence that led up to the war. Yet that deal had been years in the making.

Britain started talks with Libya, initially about the Lockerbie bombing, six years earlier. These came to fruition in 2003 when Libya’s nuclear programme was still not much more than a Meccano set. In 2003, moreover, after Col Gaddafi forswore terrorism, Libyan agents were implicated in a plot to kill King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

It is more than just Libya. Beyond the lust for oil and lazy equation of autocracy with stability, western leaders have had a blind spot about Arab countries. Europeans have struggled to come up with convincing policies towards what is their backyard.

The 43-state Union of the Mediterranean, a pet project of President Nicolas Sarkozy, is a case in point, an almost meaning-free piece of European Union architecture, a cathedral built on a pinhead. Designed to spread EU prosperity to the southern shores of the Arab Mediterranean, the union looks suspiciously like a halfway house, a sort of parking lot for Turkey, to whose EU membership Mr Sarkozy (and German Chancellor Angela Merkel) is strongly opposed.

Since its Paris launch in July 2008, the union has not met at summit level. Now Mr Sarkozy has lost his co-president of this august body: Egypt’s fallen dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

The European-dominated Socialist International, another grouping of uncertain purpose, has also seen its ranks depleted: the collapsed ruling parties of Mr Mubarak and his fellow ex-despot Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, neither distinguished by their passion for social justice, were both members.

European leaders can embrace tyrants yet look askance at Turkey, where the so-far successful marriage of Islam and democracy has mesmerised the most dynamic currents of Arab opinion, the very people who have unleashed revolution.

“Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco – this is part of the known world for the French political class. Turkey is not part of their known world,” observes a French diplomat tersely.

But Europe and the west are part of the known world of the Arab revolutionaries and their allies. And Arab television stations are channelling their increasingly loud pleas for western help against the murderous finale of Col Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. Panels of commentators at the same time remark caustically on western irrelevance and impotence.

But whether in desperation or in anger, Col Gaddafi’s opponents hope that the western powers will at least impose a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent the regime bombarding them with its warplanes and importing more mercenaries to fight them. Not just the fate of a tyrant but the reputation of Europe and America is at stake in Libya and the Middle East.