First posted April 7, 2011, updated with a Comment and links at the foot of the article, April 8, 2011.
It is difficult to be polite about the hapless Mr Weldon’s foray into Tripoli (Time’s Up, Gaddafi. Curt Weldon, New York Times, Wednesday April 6, 2011, [Times has a firewall and therefore no link]). I mean no disrespect to the man, but his venture seems pointless.
We are watching for the second time a diplomatic posture by proxy by the United States in Middle Eastern and North African affairs. I doubt the outcome will yield any better results than the previous occasion did when Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador to Egypt, (Egypt unrest: US disowns envoy comment on Hosni Mubarak, BBC, February 5, 2011), disgraced his minders by straying from the message.
It is also difficult to know quite where to begin in picking apart this second round of folly. However, let us try.
Let me start by saying that I offer Mr Weldon no disrespect, but I do think his efforts ill advised.
In Hilary Clinton, the United States has a more than capable Secretary of State, and I am sure, there abound plenty of diplomatic staff in the Middle East better able to get whatever message the United States wishes to get across to Colonel Gaddafi. At least Mr Wisner had the false pretext of having been a professional diplomat and in that role he no doubt was effective. Something about our behaviour, when we have cast aside the costume of professionalism, lends a certain stupidity to all our efforts where previously they seemed so august. Most notable is the complete absence of guile. From so many priceless examples to choose; ex-presidents, ex-statesmen, playing do-good roles, official, semiofficial and unofficial, let me cite just one: Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of the Labour Party of Great Britain, in his role as special envoy to the Middle East (Blair appointed Middle East envoy BBC, June 27, 2007).
International diplomacy is difficult at the best of times, and these times are far from the best in Tripoli, Libya, but diplomacy can only be practiced by professionals. The United States would be advised to restrain its citizens from undertaking such pointless, self immolating, missions.
This is the least objectionable aspect of Mr Weldon’s ridiculous journey.
The most objectionable is that the visit is morally wrong. One, I suppose, has to do business with dictators, at least while they are in business. History says that won’t be for long. But the way that outsiders do business with dictators is of the essence. Of course, it is possible that the US administration wishes to be seen to be making a humane gesture to a grotesque effigy as some sort of sop to its own conscience. That seems unlikely and best to say that I have no idea as to the underlying motive, for Mr Wisner did not undertake this visit without the full consent of the US government.
Mr Weldon will be rebuffed and look foolish as a result to the benefit of whom I cannot tell. Hopefully he does not compound the error by opening his mouth afterwards as his predecessor, Mr Wisner, did in Egypt, who got soundly spanked in public for his pains.
So the question has to be asked, what is the point of the visit?
Reading Mr Weldon’s polemic in the NYT reveals that he is not savvy in the world of international politics nor does he appear to profess to basic honesty.
Mr Weldon has by all accounts carefully cultivated a relationship with the Gaddafi’s and maintained that relationship over the years. (Former Representative Curt Weldon’s Close Ties To Gaddafi Led To Libya Trip, Huffington Post, April 6, 2011) Repeatedly in the NYT article, Mr Weldon stresses that the relationship that the United States wished to build was not with the Colonel himself but with the Libyan people. The record for both parties, Mr Weldon and that of the US government’s, speaks to the contrary, so it is completely disingenuous, if not dishonest, to say, “But while American companies have made billions of dollars in Libya since 2004, they have failed to engage with anyone but the Gaddafi regime itself.”
And so, it must be said, has Mr Weldon. As a broker in this situation, I would not put money on Mr Weldon’s hobbled horses. He has placed not just his thumb on the scales but his bum as well.
You wonder at the immoderacy of my language? Here is Mr Weldon himself; “Colonel Gaddafi’s son Saif, a powerful businessman and politician, could play a constructive role as a member of the committee to devise a new government structure or Constitution.”
Really? With whose consent? Did Mr Weldon ask any Libyan how this particular ploy would measure with the reality of what the rest of the world has witnessed of the said Saif in recent weeks? (Saif al-Islam Gaddafi: LSE-educated man the west can no longer deal with, Guardian, February 21, 2011)
Most of us would be surprised to not see Saif al-Islam Gaddafi cited with this father for crimes against humanity by the International Court of Justice.
One begins to see Mr Weldon not so much as a dove bearing the olive branch of peace but more as a cuckoo bearing nest feathers. (Where is the Curt Weldon Investigation Heading? Ken Silverstein, Harper’s, July 15, 2008)
Unfortunately, Mr Weldon’s sight is also blighted. His gaze is upwards, “…despite the bombs still dropping on Libya,..” and “.. the people of Libya deserve more than bombs.”
No mention is made of why the bombs are falling; Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton reports that there are more and more stories emerging across the country of abuse and suffering at the hands of the Gadaffi forces. April 6, 2011.
The goal of Mr Weldon’s self-appointed little group? “… we must engage face-to-face with Colonel Gaddafi and persuade him to leave.” It beggars description to attempt to imagine the hubris of a man making such a statement. Persuade? With words? Or is there some hidden deal being offered, some billion dollar fur-lined palace somewhere, complete with camel juice, presently being readied for the comfort of said Colonel’s retirement?
However naked is the emperor that Mr Weldon is visiting, none is so naked as the visitor himself.
Two examples: ” … we must identify and engage with those leaders who, if not perfect, are pragmatic and reform minded …” Not at perfect as the Gaddafis were (are)? “… and we are not even sure whom we should trust.” Like we trusted the Gaddafis?
To put it plainly, Mr Weldon is meddling. Worse, he is a bumbling meddler. He won’t do damage but cause offense.
Did Mr Weldon ever think of visiting Benghazi first? Or better, visiting only Benghazi?
Ah, but that would have taken an honest man.
Mr Weldon’s visit is a sort of soft gunboat diplomacy conducted by clowns. The United States, as it adjusts painfully to the new realities of the Middle East, deserves to be better served. As do, not least, the Libyan people.
Comment added April 8, 2011
The story of Mr Weldon is a case study for all Libyans. In the post Gaddafi era all Libyans should expect a veritable stream of such characters who can best be characterized as snake oil salesmen. To prepare for that day, Libyans in all walks of life would be advised to study the two links below, especially the attachments mentioned in each article. You should as a minimum expect at that point to have a press which supports you as the NYT and Huffington Post do the American people.
Former Rep. Weldon Leaves Libya, Spurned By Gaddafi, Huffington Post, April 8, 2011
Houston Oil Lobbyists Paid for Former Congressman’s Libya Mission, Robert Mackey, The Lede, New York Times, April 8, 2011