MIAMI -- Just before New Year, President George Bush and Britain's PM Tony Blair staged what French call a "coup de theatre."
That's Gallic for pulling a political rabbit from one's hat.
The rabbit in question was none other than Libya's Col. Moammar Khadaffy, once reviled as the world's most dangerous man and America's Enemy Number One.
After eight months of secret negotiations with Washington and London, the eccentric Libyan strongman grandly proclaimed his nation was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Bush, his neo-conservative supporters, and the U.S. media crowed that Khadaffy's surrender confirmed the wisdom of invading Afghanistan and Iraq. The evil Khadaffy had been cowed into giving up his arsenal of deadly WMD.
Other "rogue" states would hasten to follow Libya's lead.
But on closer inspection, there was much less to this drama than met the eye. Khadaffy, in fact, had no viable WMD, contrary to fevered claims by neo-con propagandists.
According to UN inspectors and European intelligence sources, Libya had only small amounts of World War I technology mustard gas, a primitive battlefield weapon.
It had no biological or nuclear weapons. Libya had no means of delivering WMD beyond some rusting Scud-B missiles with only a 180-mile range.
Libya possessed an assortment of nuclear junk: a small research reactor, some lab equipment, and a few inoperative, third-hand centrifuges bought from Pakistan or Malaysia.
There is no sign, at least so far, of any capability to make or deliver WMD.
When I was in Libya interviewing Col. Khadaffy, I found there was not a single elevator repairman in the country.
Bakers had to be imported from Egypt to make bread. Seventy percent of Libya's military equipment was broken down. In short, tiny, backward Libya, with a population of only five million, had no military capability.
However, in the 1980s, Libya certainly did fund all sorts of violent revolutionary groups and was implicated in the bombings of French and U.S. airliners.
After 17 years of punishing sanctions against Libya, Khadaffy sought to improve relations with the West by paying reparations for the airliners, and handing over for trial two agents involved in the 1988 Pan Am bombing.
Now, by pretending to eliminate WMD he does not possess, the colonel has given a huge political bonus to Bush and Blair, a way for them to evade censure for shamelessly lying their nations into the Iraq war. They will reward Khadaffy by halting efforts to overthrow him, slowly lifting sanctions, and allowing U.S. and British oil firms to resume exploiting Libya's high-grade oil. That's politics.
The CIA helped Khadaffy into power in 1969. In the 1980s, the U.S., Britain and France each tried to assassinate him.
Now, it seems the flamboyant colonel with nine lives is slated to be reborn as a good Arab and U.S. ally.
Right after the Libyan charade, Washington opened a major new campaign to deprive Pakistan of its nuclear arsenal. The U.S. media trumpeted leaked government reports alleging Pakistan had secretly supplied Iran, North Korea, and Libya with nuclear technology. These reports blurred the lines between exports of civilian and military nuclear technology.
Washington accused Pakistan of being a major nuclear proliferator. Pakistan nervously admitted some of its nuclear scientists may have privately aided neighbor Iran, which has sought nuclear weapons for the past 28 years.
So far, accusations that past or current Pakistani governments were involved with covert nuclear weapons exports remain unproven. A director general of Pakistan's intelligence agency, ISI, once told me Iran had offered to pay Pakistan's entire defense budget for 10 years in exchange for nuclear technology, but Islamabad refused.
Whatever the case, this whole business is worthy of Alice in Wonderland. Who came down from the mountain to ordain that only the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, North Korea, India and Israel are allowed to possess nuclear weapons or sell nuclear technology?
The U.S. is about to build a new generation of earth-penetrating nuclear weapons. China and Russia are working on new nuclear systems.
India is building a very powerful nuclear arsenal and developing intercontinental missiles.
Israel has sold India advanced nuclear warhead and missile technology.
Muslim nations, it appears, are the only ones not allowed to possess WMD.
India used to rightly call this "nuclear apartheid" until President Bush allowed Delhi into the nuclear club.
Now that Iraq has been crushed, the White House's next targets are clearly Iran and Pakistan.
Neither pose any threat to the U.S.
Political and economic pressure on Pakistan will intensify.
President Pervez Musharraf, who has been unfailingly responsive to U.S. demands, may soon be asked to place Pakistan's nuclear weapons under joint U.S.-Pakistani control, a prelude to the total elimination of its nuclear arsenal, scientists, and weapons manufacturing capability.
If Bush were really serious about reducing nuclear weapons, as he claims, instead of building more nukes, he should slash America's still huge, quite useless arsenal of thousands of nuclear warheads.
That would be called leading by example.
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