|As you might suspect, these folks do not represent the best group of people on the planet. Moreover, we have restricted the level of coverage to exclude sub-Saharan Africa as we would not know where to begin in that despotic environment. Nonetheless, it could be a future commentary given many years of involvement there. Therefore, we will begin in North Africa where the author has had a relationship for some 30 years. The involvement began in Tunisia and then moved over to Libya.
The consummate dictator in that area and period was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi whom the author never met though knew his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Colonel Gaddafi took control of Libya in 1977 at the age of 35 following his socialism scheme that was much like that of the Cultural Revolution of China.
Gaddafi is shown below in the early days with Yasser Arafat, whose PLO Headquarters were across the street from the author's office in Tunis. We always felt relatively comfortable there given the PLO kind of home-body presence and Tunisia's mutual accommodation policy. Moreover, the PLO blew up lots of things in other places but not in their neighborhood.
There was always a lot of PLO protection "heat" on the Executive Club floor at the Tunis Intercontinental Hotel which provided a nice comfort factor as long as they felt good about you. Although French was the only language spoken other than Arabic, this Texan claimed to be from Alberta, Canada so one's French accent could be flawed without having to come clean to a potential adversary that one was an American. By the way, the food and wine in Tunisia are off the chart. The food in Libya is of equal quality though the wine is missing.
As a UK company with a diversity of non-US nationalities, we were in a vanguard position to evaluate and participate in the modern development of the Libyan oil and gas potential which sounds like we were drinking our own whiskey. Eventually, we formed an alliance with a much larger "bruiser" Russian entity to strengthen our appeal.
However, we were early and had to deal with a number of unusual characters in a free flowing undefined process.
Travel to Tripoli was always a bit of a challenge. Our first experience was a chartered private plane out of Switzerland. Our Tunisian lawyer set up the appointments and arranged our handlers for a three day stay. Once we were back on the plane, we opened and consumed a bottle of wonderful Bordeaux wine as there were some difficulties over paying for the jet fuel. When cleared, and only seconds before lift-off, we caught a gull in the left engine. The pilot aborted the take off and valiantly kept the plane under control as we fish tailed down the short remaining runway.
We were much calmer than him thanks to the wine. However, he said it would take some three days to get a new engine. It took a few minutes for him to comprehend we could not leave the airplane during that period as our handlers had departed and we were not really there. His solution was to take us up the back way of a Swiss Air plane on the tarmac which was brilliant until the Libyan Red Guard confronted us and went ballistic asking for such things as travel documents.
Fortunately, our Tunisian friend's brother was the Prime Minister of Tunisia and was purported to be a good friend of Gaddafi. The Red Guard did not want to test that theory so they turned a blind eye. Just like the folks leaving Tehran in the film Argo, we were quite happy when the announcement was made that we had left Libyan air space. For most, it meant that the bar was open though it was more significant than that for us.
After several more less eventful trips to Tripoli, we formalized our venture and discovered to our great glee that both the Libyans and the Russians preferred to meet in Monaco or Switzerland. Fortunately, we never got anything put together as the country eventually fell apart.
Interestingly, a friend who has now passed was called upon by the French government to deliver a message directly to Gaddafi regarding Gaddafi's brother-in-law, Abdullah al-Senussi. After my friend's brief meeting in Tripoli, he was detained by Libyan authorities at the Libyan/Tunisian border crossing. Needless to say, given the gravity of the message, he was worried. However, a Libyan official car with lights and a siren pulled up and a guy handed him an envelope containing a picture of him with Gaddafi. His wife later complained that his socks did not match the color of his suit. The image below shows Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi in happier times.
The Arab Spring caused a rash of turmoil in the region. The NATO fly boys lined up to leave Europe in the morning, bomb Libya facing minimal anti-aircraft fire opposition and be home for a good meal and wine in the evening. The result was a de-stabilized, failed state and the death of Colonel Gaddafi on October 20, 2011. Moreover, Senussi was convicted in absentia in France for his role in the bombing of a French UTA passenger plane in 1989. He currently is condemned to death by firing squad in Libya for various crimes against humanity.
Despite the removal of these bad actors, the message here is the same as most every other rescue mission the west has had in the Middle East: Know the facts before you jump in to remove a dictator who has held a cauldron of different and disparate interests together as a state, as there is plenty of room for things to go south from that level.
We will move to a place where Europe meets Asia by crossing the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey. We have spent time there as we have a close Turkish friend who is like a brother to us. In any event, the potential new despot on the block is Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is the 12th President of Turkey. In actual fact, he may become President for life as his party won a constitutional referendum on April 16, 2017 where amendments were approved to abolish the parliamentary system and the position of prime minister, thereby giving the executive post broad powers.
Political commentators characterized the event as the "birth of a dictator" and the "fall of Turkish democracy" while Erdogan supporters contend that Turkey remains a majoritarian democracy, claiming that the government's disputed April 2017 elections were legitimate. On May 16, 2017, President Trump met with President Erdogan in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. It is always good to get a jump on the rest of the pack when it comes to future dictators as they should be around awhile.
A new relationship was also fostered when President Trump placed a "warm" phone call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. The White House stated that the conversation between the two leaders was "very friendly" and "heading in a very positive direction." Duterte may be best known recently for his extrajudicial executions of drug users and dealers at a rate of 30 a day since he took office. His campaign pledge was to kill tens of thousands of criminals and he is well on his way. It is always unusual to have a president who has admitted to personally killing more than a handful of people.
A number of the Filipinos who were present during his similar behavior as Mayor of Davao, supported his presidency though he only had 39% of the national vote for president which should make other sitting presidents feel better. Relative to gun violence, the first time the author went to the Philippines in 1992, one had to check their weapon before going through the metal detector to enter the hotel which is our practice in Texas. In Tripoli, you just had to go through the metal detector and carrying a pistol was not a good idea. Below is one of Duterte's favorite images of himself.
There are a couple of "take-away" thoughts from this commentary. Obviously, "realpolitik" a German word for practical politics is always a consideration. On the other hand, as a country defined by our national motto "e pluribus unum" or "out of many, one," it is a bit difficult to accept discriminatory or wantonly unlawful practices by anyone. However, before we all suit up and overthrow a distasteful government as an expedient solution, it is incumbent upon us to understand the consequences of that action as we see daily in Iraq and Libya.
On the other hand, before we embrace despots and outright murderers, we should consider that action given the fundamental creed upon which this democratic country was founded.
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