HOW come Libya was not one of the countries named by President Bush as forming the “axis of evil”? Iraq, Iran and North Korea - but not Libya. Why not? The rushed statements made late on Friday night by Tony Blair and President Bush, about Colonel Gaddafi's decision abandon his weapons programmes and come in from the cold, gave the clear impression that the United States had suspected for some time that Libya was developing weapons of mass destruction. The US and Britain had the same suspicions about Iraq and went to war to prove that they were right - but they were wrong. Why didn't they target Libya and Colonel Gaddafi instead - and then they could have been right! Since he came to power in 1969 Gaddafi has been a loose cannon in the Middle East and more widely. Impulsive and erratic, he has made and lost friends and enemies with equal abandon and is still one of the least predictable rulers in the world. Two years ago, after decades supporting the Arab League and its members, he suddenly announced that his interest had shifted to Africa where he has used his money to gain influence among southern African countries in particular.

Tony Blair and Jack Straw have been right in advocating the use of diplomacy to deal with difficult countries such as Iran and Libya, despite Washington's preference for a more threatening approach. However, the attempts by London and Washington to suggest that Libya's change of heart is a direct consequence of their military action against Iraq is questionable; and even if there is a sliver of truth in it, we must ask whether an illegal act taken in defiance of the United Nations should ever be held up as model to be admired.


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