Commentary Magazine


Mad Dog and Condi

Today, Condoleezza Rice arrived in Libya, the first trip there by an American secretary of state in 55 years.  There she will share Iftar-a meal breaking the fast of Ramadan-with Muammar Qaddafi.

How nice.  Qaddafi, whom Reagan labeled the “Mad Dog of the Middle East,” is over the moon to meet “Leezza” his pet name for Rice.  The Libyan has also called her “my darling black African woman.”

Clearly, the colonel ruling Libya has lost none of his flamboyance.  And he also retains his taste for running a repressive dictatorial state.  Rice, however, speaks of Libya as “a place that is changing.”  Of course.  She will raise the issue of human rights, but no one thinks she will make progress beyond the release of a dissident, if that.  So what is she really doing there at this time?

The trip was announced only a few days ago.  Most observers seem to think the timing is linked to last month’s signing of a compensation deal with Tripoli for the victims of Libyan and American bombings.  Perhaps that is true, but Ms. Rice’s schedulers must also have been thinking of someone else, someone who definitely will not be in the tent when America’s top diplomat meets the Libyan autocrat in the shifting sands of North Africa.  That person would be an even weirder personality than Qaddafi: North Korea’s Kim Jong Il.

Chairman Kim, in the last few days, began the process of firing up his mothballed reactor in Yongbyon as his nuclear agreement with the United States fell apart.  It seems he is upset because the State Department has refused to take his regime off its list of state sponsors of terrorism.  The North Korean is, I think, Rice’s real audience when she notes, as she did today, the “historic decision that Libya made to give up its weapons of mass destruction and to renounce terrorism.”  The State Department, by the way, has taken Qaddafi’s government off its terrorism-sponsors list, a point that will not be lost on Kim as he romps through his seven-story pleasure palace in Pyongyang with virginal girls from the North Korean countryside.

Kim could, of course, take a page out of Qaddafi’s notebook and reengage with the West.  He has more reason to do so because his country is headed toward another devastating famine.  Yet the North Korean is shrewder, tougher, and more resolute than his Libyan counterpart.  That means Rice can break bread with Qaddafi, but she will need to get in touch with her hard side-she has a hard side, doesn’t she?-when she next turns her attention to North Asia, as she soon must.