We've extensively covered the story of the six healthcare workers scapegoated by Libya, telling you how they were blamed for an outbreak of HIV in a Libyan hospital, raped, beaten, and tortured in prison, and sentenced to death (here, here, here, and here); how American corporations nevertheless continued to expand trade with Libya, and how political leaders like Hillary Clinton discouraged diplomatic efforts to free the workers (here and here); and, finally, how the EU as a whole, and France in particular, ultimately secured their last-minute release (here).
So it's only fitting that we bring you the final chapter: this week, Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi is in France, receiving his reward: the royal treatment, meetings with national leaders, and a deal for Libya to receive several nuclear reactors from France. Happy International Human Rights Week.
I don't know how to feel about this outcome. Was the visit this week a part of the original package, which included $400 million for the families of HIV-infected children, that Libya extorted from the EU before the medics were released? Or is the visit just what it feels like: a lollipop for the child who stops his tantrum, a $20 tip for the mugger who didn't take your whole wallet?
The most positive light I can see it in is a reference to the old chestnut of game theory known as "The Prisoner's Dilemma," in which a pair of players have the option of cooperating with or exploiting each other -- the rewards are higher if you both cooperate, but attempting to do so runs the risk of exploitation by your partner. The most successful strategy for years (up until a funny trick was discovered in 2004) has been "tit-for-tat" -- start off cooperatively, then do whatever your partner did the last time. If he's good to you, return the favor; if he screws you, screw him back next time.
This translates directly into political games, and is sometimes considered to be one of the guiding principles of cold war strategy. Perhaps France's Sarkozy, unlike the "never cooperate" strategy adopted by Clinton or the "always cooperate" strategy used by American business, is simply practicing "tit-for-tat": regardless of Qaddafi's past, his most recent action was beneficial, so he gets benefits. If Qaddafi acts well in the future, he'll presumably get more rewards; if not, he'll presumably be cut off until the next "turn." One thing to note about this strategy is that it doesn't mean you'll always "win" -- there will be events where your partner screws you -- but, in the end, you come out farther ahead than you would with any other strategy.
Considering that in the mid-1980s Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein appeared to be a well-matched pair of terroristic dictators, and today one has been pulled from a hole and hanged while the other has pitched his tent in the fertile fields of France (and I don't mean that in a dirty way), it would seem that "Prisoner's Dilemma" is a game Qaddafi plays well.