Benjamin Barber in August 2007:
Benjamin R. Barber – Gaddafi’s Libya: An Ally for America?: But the real drama is not in Sarkozy’s agile grandstanding… or in the protracted negotiations involving… Gaddafi’s gifted son, Saif al-Islam. Rather, the release [of the Bulgarian nurses] points to deep changes in the Libyan regime that began in 2003, when Libya gave up its nuclear program voluntarily, and that continue today with gradual shifts in Libyan governance, its economy and civil society that have been largely ignored by the West. The real architect of the release was Libya’s leader. Written off not long ago as an implacable despot, Gaddafi is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat. Unlike almost any other Arab ruler, he has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to rethink his country’s role in a changed and changing world.
I say this from experience. In several one-on-one conversations over the past year, Gaddafi repeatedly told me that Libya sought a genuine rapprochement with the United States and that the issues of the Benghazi Six — along with the still-outstanding final payment from Libya to families of the Lockerbie, Scotland, bombing victims — would be resolved. And behold: The nurses are free.
In all my public and private conversations with Gaddafi, including a roundtable moderated by David Frost and televised by BBC in March during which Gaddafi responded to unrehearsed questions, Gaddafi acknowledged his history of enmity with the West and did not deny Libya’s erstwhile involvement in terrorism. But he spoke of a new chapter for Libya and backed it up with a commitment to societal change. He insisted that in the Libya that comes after him there would be no new Gaddafi but self-governance. This isn’t mere bluster. Gaddafi has taken grave risks in the name of change: offending the Benghazi clans that engineered the nurses’ arrest; giving up his nuclear program while rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea use theirs to blackmail the West; holding open conversations over the past year with Western intellectuals, not just progressives such as Robert Putnam of Harvard and me but neocon pundit Francis Fukuyama and the tough New Democrat defense expert Joseph N. Nye. Moreover, in seeking to modify the banking industry and economy, he has rattled the existing elite who benefit from the status quo. Surprisingly flexible and pragmatic, Gaddafi was once an ardent socialist who now acknowledges private property and capital as sometimes appropriate elements in developing societies. Once an opponent of representative central government, he is wrestling with the need to delegate substantial authority to competent public officials… he himself surfs the Internet.
Libya under Gaddafi has embarked on a journey that could make it the first Arab state to transition peacefully and without overt Western intervention to a stable, non-autocratic government and, in time, to an indigenous mixed constitution favoring direct democracy locally and efficient government centrally…. Completely off the radar, without spending a dollar or posting a single soldier, the United States has a potential partner in what could become an emerging Arab democracy smack in the middle of Africa’s north coast. This partner possesses vital sulfur-free gas and oil resources, a pristine Mediterranean shoreline, a non-Islamist Muslim population, and intelligence capacities crucial to the war on terrorism. Gaddafi, for example, ardently opposes the al-Qaeda brand of Wahhabist fundamentalism that Saudi Arabia sponsors.
Cynics will disregard all this; but after America’s “realist” experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, this may actually turn out to be a recipe for peace and partnership in the unlikeliest of places.
Yes, “cynics,” or rather, those who don’t shill for Gaddafi or his son (a student of his). (After all, he surfs the internet!)
Here is Barber at the beginning of February:
Qadaffi himself is not detested in the way that Mubarak has been detested and rules by means other than fear. His son Saif, with a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the London School of Economics and two forthcoming books focused on liberalism in the developing world , has pioneered a gradualist approach to civil society in Libya, insisting along the way that he would accept no office that wasn’t subject to popular elections. No dynasty likely there.