MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images
Condeleezza Rice heads to Libya today, ending a 55-year dry spell in American visitors to the North African country. The goals look ambitious: set the framework for military and diplomatic agreements, educational cooperation, and more trade. That could mean a fancy new U.S. embassy in Libya, complete with ambassador -- a role unfilled to date.
Quite a change from the old days, when U.S. presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush portrayed Muammar el-Qaddafi as a terror-sponsoring boogeyman, particularly for his role in downing Pan Am flight 103 in 1988. Back then, Libya's leader lived and breathed his self-authored Green Book of political philosophy, an odd mix of populism and his own cult of personality.
So what happened? As FP highlights in this week's photo essay, most days of the week, Qaddafi looks like a changed man. Nearly four years ago, he relinquinshed his weapons of mass destruction, prompting world leaders to lift sanctions on his regime.
But on other days, he looks like the same old Qaddafi and one might wonder exactly what Rice hopes she can accomplish. He has promised to pay compensation to victims of the flight he downed, but funds have been slow to arrive in the designated Swiss bank account. According to Human Rights Watch, life for Libya's people hasn't changed one bit:
Scores of Libyans are still in prison – some of them disappeared –
simply for expressing peaceful criticism of the government and its
In short, no one is sure just how 'changed' the new Qaddafi is. Rice looks eager to push this as one of the administration's foreign policy successes, so overlooking the details might be a necessary evil. Qaddafi has promised that his new capitalist reforms will result in "creative chaos." Yet that is precisely the language he has always used to describe his country: a chaos over which only he can preside.
Whatever reservations Rice might have about visiting Libya, Qaddafi certainly seems excited to see her, if this Al-Jazeera interview is any indication:
I support my darling black African woman," he said. "I admire and am
very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab
leaders ... Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. ... I love her very much. I admire
her, and I'm proud of her, because she's a black woman of African
Who knows, if she's lucky, maybe Rice will even get a souvenir Green Book.