Photo Essay: The Bloody Colonel – Our Trusted Friend of Old

With Colonel Gaddafi struggling violently to cling to power in Libya, this photo is one that Tony Blair would dearly love to see consigned to a card board box in the attic.

The picture captures Blair’s controversial visit to Libya in 2004. The visit was a key part of Blair’s attempt to reintegrate Libya back into the international community following Gaddafi’s earlier decision of that year to renounce the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Having come to power in 1969 by means of a military coup d’état, Gaddafi appeared to make it his life’s mission to become an international pariah by advocating sweeping Islamist ideologies both at home and abroad. His active support of the IRA and the killing in 1984 of a London police officer by a member of the Libyan Embassy all helped to make Gadaffi’s Libya an international outcast in Britain’s eyes. This reputation was enhanced further with the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Just prior to the 2004 trip, Blair went to some lengths to explain to a skeptical domestic audience why it was important for Britain and Libya to now put the past behind them and that “it was time to move on.” Blair’s efforts were rewarded when the Anglo-Dutch company Royal Shell was awarded a $550 million contract for gas explorations off the Libyan coast.  

In recasting the narrative, behavioral traits that had been previously described as pathological – bordering on psychotic – were quickly passed off as quaint and harmless eccentricities. The indiscriminate and violent attacks of recent days reveal all too clearly the nature of the man we have been doing business with.  

David Cameron, the current Chief Executive of UK PLC, should reflect on this photo when he next leads a trade delegation to the region. There were good and understandable reasons why Cameron pressed ahead with this week’s visit to the Middle East, but his decision to still include within his entourage representatives of BAE Systems, Thales UK, QinetiQ and Rolls Royce looks strangely at odds with today’s zeitgeist.

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