Who dines with the Devil...

By Eric Watkins
It was bound to happen sooner or later. The blame game, that is. With war now raging in the deserts of North Africa, the question arises as to who is to blame for bringing Libya’s leader Moammar Gadhafi in from the cold.

In this week’s Newsweek, Christopher Dickey lays blame at the feet of current and former US, UK and Italian leaders who, he alleges, were blinded by their desire for oil, among other things, into rehabilitating the Libyan leader.

“The tale is a sordid one,” says Dickey. “But let’s at least begin in relatively pleasant surroundings, among the leather armchairs of the Travellers Club in London.”

The Travellers Club, for those who don’t know it, is located on Pall Mall right next door to the Reform Club – the setting for Jules Verne’s wonderful fiction, Around the World in Eighty Days.

Anyway, its there in The Travellers Club, Dickey claims, that Libya’s “urbane, white-haired spymaster, Musa Kusa, met with representatives of the British and American intelligence services in December 2003.”

According to Dickey, “Their purpose was to hammer out a deal to bring Kusa’s boss, Moammar Gadhafi, in from the cold.” And, at the heart of the deal, he says, was oil.

“It was a deal none of them could resist,” says Dickey. “Libya’s oilfields would be fully opened up to the West, and US and European banks and corporations could resume tapping the country’s revenue stream.”

Dickey continues: “Big oil prospered. The American firm Occidental wound up with more acreage than any other corporation in Libya, but the big winners were BP and the Italian national oil company ENI. Italy buys some 80% of Libya’s petroleum.”

We all get Dickey’s drift...

All, that is, all except Peter Mandelson. A cabinet member in the UK government under Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mandelson has launched a spirited defense of that government’s ties to Libya.

Mandelson’s remarks were directly largely at people like the UK’s current Prime Minister David Cameron who recently tried to score political points by criticizing the Labour Party’s “dodgy deals with dictators in the desert.”

But Mandelson may just as well have been directing his comments towards Dickey.

Writing in the Financial Times, Mandelson said the “denunciation” of those involved with Moammar Gadhafi’s regime has been taken to “ridiculous lengths.”

He went on to warn that the “stigmatizing of every business leader, academic, politician and public servant” linked with Libya will only serve to harm British interests.

Mandelson said Tony Blair had been right to do business in Libya, and he added that the attacks on those who had been involved with the Gadhafi regime could backfire.

“If, as a result of this pressure, British businesses in future shy away from international investment for fear of risking similar opprobrium, Britain’s relative decline in the global economy can only worsen.”

To be sure, Mandelson did admit that, “There are lessons to be learnt.”

Those lessons, however, “are not on the principle of bringing people like Gadhafi in from the cold, but the degree of warmth we appear to show them afterwards, before they start to reform their domestic ways and methods.”

Well said.

And while we’re at it, we might also point out that critics like Dickey and Cameron fail to understand what most oil and gas companies operating around the world have to understand as a matter of survival: that extracting oil and gas requires more than technical know-how.

Sometimes it also means doing business with people whose ethics are, to say the least, more than a little suspect. That’s why we have the expression, “Who dines with the Devil must sup with a long spoon.”

If we don’t want those deals done, though, we do have an alternative: we can all stop using oil and gas right now.

Will you be first in line, Mr Dickey?

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com
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