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"Terrible tyrant" packs powerful punch

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Posted: Tuesday, March 24, 2009 12:00 am

This week Parade Magazine, that renowned paragon of investigative journalism, published a list of the top 10 "terrible tyrants" next to a full-page color ad for those mysterious Amish fireplaces.

Moving up one spot to tenth place in the rankings this year was Muammar al-Gaddafi. The leader of Libya for 40 years now, Gaddafi is on the verge of completing one of the most amazing stories of redemption in modern political history.

Al-Gaddafi was once among the most hated men in the Western world. He overthrew the Libyan government in 1969 and by the 1980s was the leading venture capitalist in contemporary terrorism, sponsoring bombings across Europe and buying all the bootleg nuclear technology he could find.

Former President Ronald Reagan called him the "mad dog of the Middle-East," but al-Gaddafi was always more big pimpin' than bin Laden. Never seen without a fresh pair of sunglasses or his platoon of hot female bodyguards in matching fashion camo, Gaddafi was a relic of the Cold War who most thought would just disappear as the Soviet empire crumbled.

Few observers would have guessed that al-Gaddafi would be spearheading African politics in 2009 or that former President George W. Bush would call him in December 2008 and become the first U.S. president to talk to the Libyan leader.

Bush even sent Condi to Libya in late 2008 to open up formal relations, which was pure genius; Gaddafi called our secretary of state "that darling black African woman" and remains completely sprung to this day.

Of course, this is all about the money. Libya has one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world and a crumbling infrastructure. Top European and American firms can't wait to get at that oil. In addition, being a terrorist state for so long allowed Libya to sit out this recession - they have about $100 billion that they are spending on commercial real estate across the globe.

Money is also how Gaddafi got out of the doghouse. Gaddafi poured billions into funds set up for the families of the victims of his bombings but only after a push from Bush. Maybe W. told him to get a good public relations firm, too - Libya just paid the Livingston Group $750K for the last six months of its work in helping to rehabilitate the region in the eyes of the West. Throwing money at problems and hiring a top lobbying firm, Gaddafi has learned a couple of new tricks these past few years.

Some habits die hard, though. Gaddafi remains a strong adversary of Israel; his plan for a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine seems misguided at best. Our government, meanwhile, remains committed to selling guns and military technology to pretty much anyone.

The current U.S. ambassador to Libya revealed earlier this month that we plan on selling Gaddafi nonlethal weapons and training immediately, with lethal weapons soon thereafter.

The French have already welcomed Gaddafi to Paris and sold him 14 brand-new fighter jets, so America isn't quite spearheading this Libyan renaissance story. After 40 years, Gaddafi is proving that the only constant in this world is change - well, that and Arab money.

Tommy Maple is an international communications graduate student. His column appears on Tuesdays.

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