On 20 August, 2009, US President Barack Obama received a hard lesson in why you do not needlessly belittle and offend long-standing diplomatic allies. One of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's risible, clown-show lackeys released Libyan Abel Basset Ali Megrahi - the mastermind of the Lockerbie bombing.
This 1988 Pan-AM airline bombing killed over 100 Americans. Thus, al-Megrahi's release was a slap in the face to America, but it didn’t constitute a gratuitous insult. If Barack Obama's behavior towards the British didn't facilitate this travesty, his conduct certainly may have earned it.
It began in the early days of the Obama Administration. When President Barack Obama met with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy before he was willing to meet British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the British government gave no outward sign of consternation. PM Brown was gracious towards President Obama, and offered the following statement through his spokesman.
"We wouldn't attach too much importance to who has what meetings when. The important thing is whether or not you share the same values and have similar approaches and are able to work together on challenges."
At the same time, however, he did send our new president a subtle, yet undetected message. When asked if he intended to watch Barack Obama get inaugurated, he said he was not sure. The spokesman added.
"He is very focused on doing his job as British Prime Minister."(HT: UK Telegraph)
The thinly veneered contempt continued as Barack Obama returned a bust of Winston Churchill to England. Then, he met with Prime Minister Brown and the two exchanged gifts. What ensued was a diplomatic snub. Barack Obama gave PM Brown 25 “Classic” US movies on DVD. His handler failed to check whether they were in the proper format to play in Europe.
The British Press made much of this and highlighted it to PM Brown’s embarrassment. Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post, noted the severity of the gaff. He quoted a British reporter who stated.
"If Downing Street was expecting the kind of love-in that marked the first Blair-Clinton gala at the White House or the Blair-Bush Colgate and video moment at Camp David, this new administration has proved it wrong. There never was going to be a press conference, despite what No10 said. And there is no couple time planned.”
In and of itself, this sort of churlish behavior towards a trusted ally would not justify the release of a terrorist. That required a slumping British economy and a major oil deal. It turns out British Petroleum had a deal in the works to drill for oil in Libya worth ?15Bn. Only one big hang-up stood in the way – Megrahi’s continued incarceration. The London Times describes the backroom politics.
In a letter dated July 26, 2007, Straw (British Foreign Minister Jack Straw) said he favoured an option to leave out Megrahi by stipulating that any prisoners convicted before a specified date would not be considered for transfer.
Downing Street had also said Megrahi would not be included under the agreement.
At this point, the Libyans asked the British how motivated they were to do business. It placed Britain’s alliance with the United States in conflict with British economic interests. The British government washed their hands of the issue.
On December 19, 2007, Straw wrote a letter which stated the following.
“I had previously accepted the importance of the al-Megrahi issue to Scotland and said I would try to get an exclusion for him on the face of the agreement. I have not been able to secure an explicit exclusion.
“The wider negotiations with the Libyans are reaching a critical stage and, in view of the overwhelming interests for the United Kingdom, I have agreed that in this instance the [prisoner transfer agreement] should be in the standard form and not mention any individual.”
At this point, since Lockerbie lies in Scottish territory, British Law gave the Scottish Parliament authority to decide on whether al-Megrahi should be released. The individual tasked with this decision was Scottish Minister Kenny MacAskill.
MacAskill had an opportunity to stop this farce and keep al-Megrahi in custody. Perhaps, after inquiring of PM Brown how he liked the 25 classic American movies, he chose the following route.
Al-Megrahi's request to serve out his life sentence in Libya was later denied by MacAskill, but he released the Libyan on compassionate grounds because the 57-year-old is terminally ill. Al-Megrahi returned to Libya earlier this month. (HT: Clusterstock)
Obviously, this entire farce was in motion before Barack Obama came to power. It may have played out this way regardless of how President Obama chose to treat PM Brown. However, there may also have been an opportunity to prevent this miscarriage of justice. A respectful and highly-regarded US President may have been able to undo this entire travesty.
But no, returning that bust of Winston Churchill was too tempting a cheap-shot for the Boy President to pass up. So, while Barack Obama proves he’s too cool to hang out with the stodgy, old Europeans, we were all treated to the following spectacle on 20 August 2009.
The former spy—who is responsible for the deaths of 259 passengers on the Pan Am flight, as well as 11 villagers who were crushed by the wreckage—was repatriated in one of Gadhafi's private jets.
As if that weren't enough, Gadhafi arranged for a large audience to greet him on the tarmac. The crowd was delirious, singing patriotic songs. And this was in a country where outbursts of jubilation are rarely spontaneous.(HT: The Wall Street Journal)
I would only hope Barack and Michelle Obama stopped laughing at Great Britain’s expense after that. A special relationship and an enduring alliance may have just died that day. This is not restoring America’s image throughout the rest of the world.