While Libyans battle over ending Moammar Gaddafi’s 42-year tyranny, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has been itching to provide his services as a broker. Libya’s rebels have nixed this — they want Gaddafi gone, not “mediated” with. Such Western heavyweights as the U.S. and France have dismissed the idea. Yet it keeps coming back. The Arab League says it is studying Chavez’s proposal. On Friday, Venezuela’s foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, said that Gaddafi’s beleaguered government had authorized Venezuela to pick a number of “friendly countries” to take part in a Chavez-led “dialogue” to negotiate a way out of Libya’s conflict.
Why is Chavez so interested? What’s this really about, and what’s in it for Chavez?
There’s been a lot of speculation about this — should Chavez mediate in Libya? Could he? Here’s a roundup from The Week; and here’s a Friday article from Al Jazeera, “Chavez gambles on Gaddafi Diplomacy.” Some wonder if Chavez is trying to help his pal, Gaddafi, whom, as Al Jazeera notes, he has called “one of the great leaders of this century.” Some suggest Chavez is gambling on scoring a diplomatic coup, willing to risk failure in hope of bolstering his own image. Where most seem to agree is that a Chavez-brokered deal might give Gaddafi a face-saving way to hightail it out of Libya, perhaps to Venezuela. That possibility seems broadly accepted as a good thing. “Let Gadhafi pitch his tent on one of the beautiful islands off of Venezuela’s Caribbean coast,” advises the Christian Science Monitor.
I’m speculating here — but I think Chavez’s offer is all about arranging for Gaddafi to make an orderly exit to Venezuela, should he decide to turn tail and run. Beware. That is a terrible prospect.
There may be a case for providing Gaddafi with some sort of exit route, if it will help save Libyan lives — though what he deserves is justice at the hands of the Libyans whose country and lives he ruined over the course of more than four decades of nightmare rule. But if Gaddafi does end up pitching a retirement tent in exile, one of the last places the “international community” should allow him to go is Venezuela.
The problem is that even a dethroned and exiled Gaddafi will not be harmless. Gaddafi may sound like a lunatic, and in some ways he sure qualifies. But he is also a manipulative thug, wily and ruthless enough to have subjugated an entire nation for more than two generations, while running terror networks and fostering such grotesques as Liberia’s Charles Taylor. Gaddafi is experienced in techniques for surviving U.S. and UN sanctions, squirreling away billions in plundered national oil wealth, and haggling over how much blood money will buy rehabilitation in the diplomatic salons of the West. Gaddafi is seasoned in methods of covertly assembling a nuclear weapons program, having ordered one up from the A.Q. Khan network in the 1990s, and taken it remarkably far before he was caught red-handed and agreed in late 2003 to surrender his WMD kit to the U.S., for fear of suffering the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
Gaddafi is also a veteran at cashing in even on some of his worst transgressions. Having paid blood money to have his name scrubbed from the terror rolls, and given up a nuclear weapons program he should not have had in the first place, he parlayed his newly “rehabilitated” status into a parade of utterly undeserved benefits. Dripping Libyan oil, he became the belle of the international ball. Libya — which is to say, Gaddafi’s regime — got itself a 2008-2009 seat on the UN Security Council, the 2009-2010 presidency of the General Assembly, and a seat last year on the Human Rights Council. In 2009, Gaddafi chaired the African Union. High-ranking politicians and other dignitaries came calling on Tripoli; and just last year, a smiling U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a warm public welcome in Washington to one of Gaddafi’s sons, a security official of Gaddafi’s regime. What finally upset this apple cart was the rebellion of Libya’s people, and as Gaddafi has rallied enough to fight back with mass murder, it’s likely he’s learning something more –however late in the day — about what works and what doesn’t in trying to subdue people who are willing to die to be rid of a tyrant.
All this hideous expertise is of enormous potential use to Hugo Chavez, the would-be president-for-life of Venezuela — another oil-rich nation in which the regime is plundering its own people, consorting with terror networks (such as Hezbollah), stirring up trouble in its region, and making common cause with terror-based regimes (such as Syria and Iran). Chavez has made no secret of his interest in obtaining nuclear technology. In 2009, together with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he declared his intention to create a “nuclear village.” In 2010, while visiting Tripoli, no less, Chavez said Venezuela is intent on building a nuclear reactor, and “nothing will stop us.” Not that there is necessarily a lot of loyalty among tyrants; Chavez’s pals in Iran are calling for the ouster of Gaddafi. But these are hardly objections of principle; they are matters of convenience — just one more thing for Chavez to broker his way through.
The point is, in one particular after another, Chavez is embarked on an array of monstrous projects for which an exiled Gaddafi, pitching his tent in Venezuela, could be a font of expert advice. It is of course possible that given enough time spent in proximity, these two motor-mouth grandstanding thugs could talk each other to death. That would provide a remedy of sorts. But on the chance that their wilier instincts would prevail, Gaddafi is not the kind of guy who should be allowed to retire as tyrant emeritus in Venezuela.