17 August 2007

Now it can be revealed...

Continued from page 1.

By a strange coincidence, part of the story was told recently, when the admirable American Thinker ran a piece by James Lewis, headed "Why the Brits are losing Basra". It relied heavily on our work and particularly on the Army's failure to provide blast-resistant military vehicles.

By another strange coincidence, that latter theme was taken up The Huntsman blog in a thoughtful and innovative fashion.

In the manner of what is termed "nettiquette", since both pieces linked to us, I was thinking about framing an appropriate response which would embed reciprocal links (which I have now done). But what then shaped this piece were two further events.

The first was a combination: the Financial Times report on the government monitoring blogs and Iain Dale's facile response, which brought from us the comment that the MoD already monitored our blog. This is part of the story because, if it had not, there would be troops today who would be dead instead of alive.

The second event was a report on this yesterday evening's BBC radio news which, unexpectedly, launched into a paean of praise about the Army's new Mastiff mine and blast-protected truck (pictured above and on page 1), which is now saving lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Therein does lie our story – how that happy situation came about. But what finally pushed me into writing it was the offhand way in which the BBC made its report, ending in a complaint that, with only 100 Mastiffs bought, there were not enough of these life-saving vehicles to go round. How easily it forgets, but the BBC itself was one of the obstacles to getting these vehicles in service. At the very least, I felt, I had to point this out. How it did so emerges later in this story.

To tell the story, I checked first on the internet to see if the BBC had put its report on its website, to reproduce here. It was not up then (although it has now been posted), but I did find this story from The Scotsman published last week which, with a report on the MoD website, sets the framework for this tale.

The Scotsman story essentially conveys the same factual material which found its way into the BBC report and, because it is so illustrative, I am taking the unusual step of reproducing it in full. Headed, "new armed vehicles saved our lives, say soldiers," by John Bingham, it runs as follows:

British soldiers in Afghanistan told yesterday how they emerged unhurt after driving over landmines in new heavily armoured vehicles. Since arriving in Helmand province earlier this year the first of the fleet of Mastiffs have been through four mine strikes and 10 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attacks with no casualties.

The Mastiff - built in the US with extra armour added in Coventry - is one of three new types of vehicle bought by the army to give extra protection from insurgent devices. The move followed criticism of the protection provided by earlier vehicles. The Mastiffs, operated by the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Tank Regiment, have been in action daily across Helmand since their arrival in March.

Coated with layers of steel, the underside is designed in a V-shape to deflect the impact of any mine strike upwards and away from the vehicle. It played a key role in launching a push against the Taleban in the Gereshk Valley by driving through a hail of fire to deposit troops safely at a bridge.

Corporal Ben Roder, of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, told how he had been in command of a Mastiff carrying a three-strong crew plus six infantry troops when they drove over a mine. "We just heard a loud explosion, it echoed around inside, the vehicle jumped a little bit in the rear," Cpl Roder, 25, from Essex, said.

Up above, Trooper Leslie Wareham, 23, from Kent, was providing top cover when the blast went off. "At first I heard an explosion... then all the dust came up in front of me. I was thrown up a little and fell into the turret," he said. "My ears were ringing, all the dismounts [infantry] were asking if I was all right. I just shook myself and said I was good to go."

Cpl Roder added: "If we had hit an anti-tank mine like that in a Scimitar you would have had three extra coffins back in the UK."
And now for the story proper, which starts not during these wars but during the Falklands campaign. In the fate of the servicemen fighting there, I had a very personal interest as my brother-in-law was the engineer on board HMS Yarmouth, a ship which did gallant service – much of it unrecorded. It was the first on the scene after HMS Sheffield had been hit by a French-built Exocet missile. It could so easily have been Yarmouth that had been hit and it was brought home to our family how close we had come to losing someone very dear to us.

Largely unpolitical at the time, I nevertheless recall writing some very pointed letters to the MoD demanding – as seemed appropriate – that our ships should be equipped with Phalanx close in weapons systems, to protect them against these missiles. To be fair to the MoD, the replies I got were measured and reassuring. In the fullness of time, our ships were equipped with these guns.

The experience had two effects on me: firstly, it taught me how personal war really was – the prospect of real loss and intolerable grieving: something I would not wish on anyone.

Secondly, it triggered in me a determination that I should do what I could – however slight – to ensure that such loss was not visited on anyone if it could be avoided. Then and since – while realistic about the nature of war – I harboured a rooted objection to our service personnel being killed for want of adequate equipment.

This brings me to the second strand of the story, which is also not directly related to the issue at hand, but is an important part of it. The strand here concerns the MoD's selection of the Panther Future Command and Liaison Vehicle (FCLV), the full details of which need not trouble us here but, for those who need to refresh their memories, can be traced through this compendium of links.

One outcome, however, is directly relevant in that it demonstrated that the MoD was buying the wrong vehicle - and an extremely expensive one at that - for the wrong reasons, breaking its own rules in so doing in a procedure that was almost certainly corrupt.

Another outcome, which is also directly relevant, is that it introduced me to one of the better and cheaper alternatives – one which had been rejected by MoD in the procurement competition. This was the RG-31 which would have been – and still is – ideal for both Iraq and Afghanistan. It was then just being introduced by the US Marine Corps into Iraq and was being used by the Canadians in Afghanistan (pictured).

Now, at this point, some readers might (rightly) question my certainty that the Army had made the wrong decision, and my qualifications for making that assertion.

Here, I find myself empathising with the fictional hero of the film (and book), The Flight of the Pheonix - the aircraft designer who so successfully converted the wrecked C-119 "Flying Boxcar" into a single engined monoplane which flew the pilot and passengers to safety. In one of the supercharged scenes in the original 1965 film, which starred James Stewart as the pilot, the designer was forced to reveal that his skill was in designing model (not toy!) aircraft.

So it is with me. From a very young age, with two long-standing friends, I played war games, using scale model vehicles of increasing accuracy and sophistication. By the time we had finished, we were building exact replicas of WWII armoured brigades, down to the very last detail. With them, we re-enacted former campaigns, which we had studied in depth - devouring every book, manual and film we could get on the subject – having discussed them endlessly.

Such was our devotion that, as the owner of the German component, I needed a number of Sd. Kfz. 251/1 Hanomag half-track APCs. As there were no commercially available models, I spent time in the Imperial War Museum consulting the original manufacturers' blueprints, (manually) scaling them down to provide templates. With these, I then scratch-built my own models from sheet plastic, producing a fleet to equip my "army".

With that and a prolonged period in the cadet force, by the time of my exams, if there had been an A-level in armoured vehicles, I would have got an A triple-star. With my own military service, an abiding interest in things military, with constant reading reinforced by scouring the battlefields of Northern Europe and the Middle East, and frequenting military museums, I think I can claim more than a passing knowledge of modern military affairs. I certainly know my HVFSDS from my HEAT and my HESH, their effect on armour, and many other allied issues. I know a great deal more than some soldiers who would dismiss me as a "gobshite civilian" and, whatever they might call me, I will not have them die as long as there is something I can do to keep them alive.

Anyhow, this brings us to June of last year. Although I had touched on the subject before, by then I was noting a steady flow of deaths from what we had come to know as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) with one thing in common. All the casualties had been riding in lightly-armoured "Snatch" Land Rovers. Although vehicles designed for public order duties in Northern Ireland, they had been pressed into service in November 2003, a decision approved by the then CGS Mike Jackson despite their being entirely unsuitable for the much more demanding and dangerous environment of Iraq.

If the media had noticed, it certainly was not writing about it and, while there was some discussion in Parliament, the idea of buying new vehicles had been dismissed by the minister. Thus, on 18 June I posted the first of what turned out to be a torrent of pieces, this one called "How Blair is killing our soldiers".

The ministers (and especially Lord Drayson, the defence procurement minister - pictured with troops in Afghanistan) relied for their main argument on the claim that vehicles like the RG-31 were simply too big for the urban environment of Basra. To counter that, we launched into a sustained campaign exploring alternatives, debunking the minister's claims and looking more and more at the detail of the issue.

Here, some fascinating political issues come to the fore. Iain Dale might think it is objectionable that the "government" monitors blogs but they were most certainly doing this with EU Referendum by then. And, what makes him think that the communication is one-way? Directly and indirectly, the "conversation" developed into a two-way process.

What I did not know then, but was later told, was that ministers were – as is so often the case – speaking to the briefs prepared for them by their civil servants and, crucially, by senior military officers. What also emerged was that these people, advising the ministers, were implacably hostile to the whole idea of protected vehicles such as the RG-31. Despite the growing toll of wrecked Land Rovers and broken bodies, they were feeding the "line" that that alternatives would be wholly inappropriate for the theatre.

At that time, however, I had joined a discussion on the unofficial Army forum ARRSE, a thread that eventually ran to 21 pages. As the discussion develops, you can see something of that hostility, as I argued the case for new protected vehicles. More and more posters piling in to oppose the idea, some of them incredibly aggressive.

Bruising though it was, I also attracted some heavyweight support. Serving men and officers contacted me privately, telling me quite appalling stories of their experiences. I soon had enough to go to long-standing contacts in the media and, on 25 June, had managed to place a long article in The Sunday Times (complete with a front page "teaser" and a lead article). Only grudgingly did the story refer to its primary source, way down page:

Richard North, an author and internet blogger who has been campaigning over the failure to invest in heavily armoured vehicles, said: "It was an incredibly crass decision to reject the RG-31 and shows yet again the MoD's knack of creating a disaster of every procurement decision."

"They looked at whether to stick with cheap, second-hand Land Rovers that were not safe for use in Iraq at that time, or buy a vehicle that would save lives. What did they do? They stuck with the Land Rovers."
Nevertheless, with Booker having already written some superb pieces in his column, the media profile had been considerably enhanced.

This, it now transpires, had the politicians "wobbling", although not the civil servants or the Army. They continued to brief against our preferred replacement vehicle, finding a home in the BBC and Mick Smith's blog in The Times. "It might be good enough for the Canadians," Smith wrote. "You might even be able to get it on the ground very quickly. But its profile is all wrong and it's just that bit too big for Basra."

The following day, though, I was picking up another potential disaster, the Pinzgauer Vector, which I dubbed the coffin on wheels. With little more protection than the "Snatch" and some hugely dangerous design features, this was actually the Army's choice of protected patrol vehicle.

For once, though, with considerable behind-the-scenes pressure - not least a blizard of Parliamentary questions - the opposition parties in Parliament got their act together picking up on the Sunday Times article and mounting a spirited attack on the newly appointed defence secretary, Des Browne. With no help from the BBC, we extended the Parliamentary campaign into the Lords, and started a systematic attack on the claims that a replacement vehicle would be "too big for Basra".

Their Lordships mounted their own powerful attack and, with more powerful evidence, by two weeks into a relentless campaign, we had made the case.

Still evidence mounted up and, by 23 July - after Des Browne had announced a review of armoured protection - we were getting news that the MoD was to buy a hundred protected vehicles. These, however, turned out to be another 100 Pinzgauer Vectors, a move we called corporate manslaughter. But we also got an announcement that Des Browne was also ordering what was later to be called tthe Mastiff - perversely, much bigger than the RG-31 we had been promoting.

Despite his earlier attempt at trashing the RG-31, Mick Smith did his best to claim credit for The Sunday Times (with no mention of this blog, of course) and the rest, as they say, is history. Except that the history is still being made. The purchase of the Mastiff was a political decision, imposed in the teeth of opposition from the Army, which preferred the highly vulnerable Pinzgauer Vector. Soon enough, the Army reverted to type, with the purchase of an insane vehicle, the Supacat WIMIK, that proved they had learnt nothing at all.

The thinking reflects the Army's obsession with cross-country performance, which drives the design of its vehicles. Thus, in the choice of design, it first looks to optimise that performance and then, as a secondary objective, it seeks to protect the vehicle, literally bolting-on protection. But, as the Rhodesians and South Africans had found decades before, appliqué solutions simply do not work. Protection must be designed in. The design strategy, therefore, must be to create a suitable shape, and then add cross-country performance - a simple concept that the Army seems incapable of grasping.

And so we come almost to the present day. At the beginning of this account, we had The Scotsman retailing how troops in a Mastiff had survived uninjured from a mine strike. Yet, two weeks ago, we saw a Vector attacked, with one dead and two injured. Despite the attempt at a cover-up, I am more than ever convinced that, had these troops been riding in a Mastiff, they would have survived uninjured.

And that is at the heart of the continuing battle. The well-protected Mastiff was a political choice and the Pinzgauer Vector was the choice of Army "experts". The troops have expressed their views on the Mastiff – the graveyards will cast their own verdict on the Vector.

So far, though, we can aver that this blog did play a pivotal role in the procurement of the Mastiffs and, if the BBC is now complaining that not enough have been bought, it did nothing to get any of them into theatre and is doing nothing to ensure that more are obtained.

Furthermore, for all the self-important prattling of the so-called "political" blogs – which lifted not a finger in support of the campaign for better vehicles - our blog, in mobilising the media, parliamentarians and allies showed what a blog can do. It was not enough and we do not lay claim to having done this all ourselves. It was truly a team effort, where the media and parliamentarians (and service personnel and their relatives) played key roles. But we are proud of what we did, even if we bear a savage hatred for those fools and knaves who still put our troops unnecessarily at risk – and for those who are indifferent to their fate.


06 August 2007

Damage limitation

8.54 am Today Programme

Sarah Montague: Since the 1970s, the heads of government of the different EU countries have held regular informal get-togethers. Over the years, these summits, called the European Council, have become more formalised and now the new treaty would for the first time make the Council one of the Union's formal institutions. Some are saying it's a huge change that will dramatically shift the balance of power.

Gisela Stuart is a Labour MP who was part of the group that drew up the European constitution. Robert Jackson is a former minister. He left the Conservative Party and joined Labour because of the Tories’ opposition to Europe.

Good morning to you both.

Both: Good Morning.

SM: Gisela Stuart. Before we look at the effects of this can you give us just a little bit of an explanation, a definition of what the European Council is?

GS: It's when heads of government meet together and it used to be that they met together to coordinate the interests of the nation state. What that new structure actually does – its almost when you look at any institutional governance. It makes them now part of it, the way like, for example, a federal state like Germany would have a directly elected parliament but there'd be another institution which represents the federal component. We in the UK, we have Parliament and the Lords, the two chambers. What this new structure does, is that body where heads of state meet, they become subordinate to the Union's interests, become part of that working and they will now have a duty to represent the interests of the Union, the interest of the member states. And the third and much more interesting element is that the constitutional treaty will potentially allow for that president of that body also to be the same person as the president of the commission. Therefore it's a consolidation of the way the Union works into a structure that is much more like a government.

SM: Robert Jackson, that sounds like a dramatic shift of power.

RJ: Well, I don't agree with that assessment. I mean, there's a long historical debate going back to the beginnings of the European Union about whether it's going to develop on federalist lines or on intergovernmental lines. And the original federalist concept was that that the Commission would become the government with the Council of Ministers a kind of senate and the European Parliament as the kind of House of Commons of the European structure. But since the 1970s, the development of the European Council – the regular meetings three times a year of the heads of government – has shifted the balance towards intergovernmentalism and this is consolidated in this treaty.

SM: So you're saying that basically they're acting more in the interests of member states than the EU?

RJ: Well they… my view is that the European Union has always been about the cooperation of the member states. They've created a number of common institutions to enable them to pursue common policies in areas where they want to have them, er, but basically the states have always been in the driving seat. The federalist vision which was of a genuinely supranational, commission-driven system has faded, and what we have now in this draft treaty is a final consolidation of the development to an intergovernmental system based on the member states.

SM: Gisela Stuart, when you imagine the heads of government, the heads of all the EU countries, governments, sitting down in a room together, it’s difficult to believe that they suddenly leave their responsibilities for acting for their own countries at the door and suddenly start thinking, acting for the EU?

GS: Robert was right in the Union when you had six or even twelve or possibly even up to 15. He really should look at how the Union’s developed in the last 10-15 years. You now have 27 heads of government sitting round the table and more of them. They will decide by qualified majority. We now even have a duty imposed on national parliaments how they should act. And we have a commission no longer representing every member state. So, by about 2014, when all these changes have come into place, the dynamics of power by far more member states, so for the member states to be the driving force will be much more unlikely because for the 27 to agree will be much more difficult than the original six were. So I think Robert was right in the 90s but he’s failed to understand how the Union's developed in the last 10-15 years.

RJ: Well, I just don't agree with that assessment. Gisela's making a strong point …

SM: 27 is very different from a handful.

RJ: I think 27 means that this consolidates this move towards intergovernmentalism because these 27 different countries all have their different interests. And what happens is a much more complicated process of coalition-building between the different states. And meanwhile, Gisela's point about legal duties to further the interests of the Union. Now, I mean, those are words on paper. In practice, member states will consult their interests and they will work together when they think it's in their interests and otherwise not.

SM: Robert Jackson, Gisela Stuart, thank you.


04 August 2007

A trip to Tripoli

At first the release of the Bulgarian medics after eight years of incarceration and torture by the Libyan government was greeted joyfully by all believers in the European project and the need for “Europe” to have a common foreign policy. Here is a wonderful example, they chortled, of “soft power” that is sooooooooooo much more effective than the nasty hard power of the Americans.

An article in Transitions Online, a largely Europhile site that deals with Eastern Europe, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, breathes a sigh of relief at Europe finally showing willingness to work together and exert pressure as a single entity after a period of discord, what with arguments about Turkey’s possible entry and those cheeky referendum results in France and the Netherlands.

There is also a problem of public perception that is seriously misguided in TOL’s opinion:
It is no surprise then that Brussels has an image problem. The latest survey conducted by the Eurobarometer polling service shows that in some of the 27 member countries, support for the EU has tumbled since 2004, when enthusiastic crowds marked the unification of East, West, North, and South.

The survey shows that fewer than half of Czechs, Hungarians, and Latvians think EU membership is a good thing, ranking citizens in these new states alongside the EU-bashing British and the increasingly anti-EU Austrians. Support for EU membership fell in the Czech Republic (from 51 to 46 percent) and in Latvia (from 43 to 37 percent) in just six months.

Across the EU, 59 percent of those surveyed said their countries had benefited from membership, yet only 40 percent of Hungarians think they have gained. In Bulgaria, public opinion is evenly divided on this front, although the survey was conducted before the Bulgarian health workers were freed.
Never mind. All this can be put behind us. The one thing Eurobarometer seems to show is that the people of all these doubtful member states want to see a stronger and more united common foreign and security policy. It does not occur to the author of the article that the reason might be because that is something that does not concern people directly and so they do not really care.

The freeing of the Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian born doctor showed that the people were right and the leaders were wrong – united foreign policy can work.
The success in freeing the Bulgarians is a demonstration that the public may know how to wield power better than turf-protecting national leaders. For three years, the EU and its emissaries assiduously negotiated with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, seeking to free the five nurses and a Palestinian-born physician, who were convicted of deliberately infecting children with HIV. (They maintained their innocence throughout their eight-year ordeal.)

Europe’s offer of full economic and political partnership for Libya is a reward for the release of the health workers. It also acknowledges Qaddafi’s cooperation on other fronts in recent years, most notably his decision to abandon weapons of mass destruction. Europe, in turn, gains renewed access to the petroleum-rich country’s resources and an economy ready for investment after years of sanctions.
Actually, most of us would call that bribery. Even TOL is not altogether happy.
Granted, doing deals with Libya is not an ideal example of enlightened foreign policy. Qaddafi remains an absolute ruler, an opportunist who has reopened doors to the West but not to democracy. The economy remains largely under central control and may stymie foreign investors.
Never mind. This is soft power at work. Inevitably that cheerleader for the European project, Andrew Moravchik, who directs the European Union Programme at Princeton, came in on the act with an article in the Financial Times on July 30:
The deal over the freed medics is the fruit of years of negotiation with Britain, France and Brussels. Europe came wielding “soft power” in the form not of enlightenment moralism but tough-minded economic diplomacy.

Colonel Gadaffi received payments for stricken Libyan families, a promise to normalise economic ties with the EU and the affirmation of a French presidential visit, following Mr Blair’s stop-over last month. Bulgaria got its nurses back and French companies received an attractive deal for a desalination plant. Add to that the generous oil and arms deals granted to Britain and a little praise for EU officials, and nearly everyone comes away a winner. At the core of Europe’s success is the premise that if you cannot fight hostile governments, you must “flip” them, patiently negotiating incremental progress. Engagement on these terms is a tough political road. Those who choose it must attend to the complex domestic politics of foreign societies, with all the ethical ambiguities and compromises that entails.
Or, in other words, good old-fashioned bribery.

In fact, the whole story is not really as straightforward as all that. For one thing, the EU or even European politicians were not alone in their pleas or demands that the medics be released. Condoleezza Rice made statements as did President Bush and, even a few assorted international celebrities such as Bianca Jagger. While TOL and the Financial Times cheered European diplomacy, Der Spiegel expressed reservations.
Sarkozy traveled to Tripoli on Wednesday just a day after his wife Cecilia flew out of Libya on a French presidential plane with the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor on board. The French president and Gadhafi signed five key agreements on future cooperation, including deals on defense and civilian nuclear energy.

The French even agreed to help the Libyans develop a nuclear reactor to desalinate water. But critics in Germany and France have questioned the wisdom of promoting atomic energy in a country that until 2003 had been trying to develop a nuclear weapons program. The Libyan leader has since renounced terrorism and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but many German commentators and politicians argue that the country is still a dictatorship and so its promises should be viewed with caution.
So, what we have here is a complicated deal negotiated by President Sarkozy with the help of Mme Sarkozy between France and Libya, which will, one assumes bring in money to France (who else will build that reactor?) and help Libya to build up defence structures up to and including nuclear power (to be used peacefully, of course). Errm, where is the money coming from?

Libya, of course, has oil and may well be able to use income from its sale to pay for all those French developments. But, let us not forget, that as part of the great European demonstration of soft power, Libya has also been offered various financial inducements. Are these going to be used in the deals signed by Presidents Sarkozy and Gaddafi?

There is also the question of Mme Sarkozy. She went to Libya twice to discuss the fate of the imprisoned medics with Gaddafi, sidelining the EU negotiators and, according to some sources, offering various amounts of money.

What a wonderful idea, having the wife of the President become involved in tricky international negotiations. Imagine if the First Lady of the United States did that. What would be the reaction of the ultra-sophisticated European media?
In the deal, the EU paid €9.5 million to improve conditions at the childrens' hospital in Benghazi where the medics had worked. EU Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had settled a deal before the EU summit in June, according to SPIEGEL's Berlin sources. But on her first visit to Tripoli, Mrs. Sarkozy reportedly offered funds to modernize yet another hospital -- which gave the Libyans a reason to hold out for more money.

The centerpiece of the negotiations was the so-called Benghazi Fund, set up to help families of the infected children. The goal was to pay $1 million (€724,000) in damages per child. The first $44 million came from Bulgaria in the form of debt forgiveness. The Libyan government contributed $74 million, while the EU promised only the money earmarked to clean up the hospital.
Naturellement, none of this is ransom paid over for the nurses. Would the EU or France, who seems to have done well out of the deal, do such a thing? Jamais.

The story did not stop at everybody congratulating everybody else. On August 1, Le Monde published an article, which quoted Colonel Gaddafi’s son on the subject of what had been negotiated.

Saïf Al-Islam Gadhafi cannot be called a reliable source but, nevertheless, what he is supposed to have said is very interesting. According to this scion of the ruling family, there were two unmentioned aspects to the agreement, which brought about the release of the medics – an arms deal between France and Libya and an undertaking on Britain’s part to release the supposed Lockerbie bomber, imprisoned in Scotland.

This, as Nidra Poller, writer and journalist who resides in Paris and is a supporter of Nicolas Sarkozy, points out, has been exercising the French media, who do not seem to be over-impressed by the whole story.
Why do critics on the Right and Left feel it necessary to jump to the conclusion that there is a dirty deal to be revealed and Sarkozy is the guilty party? Because they don’t think he could have liberated the unjustly imprisoned Europeans any other way. They don’t think he could have outsmarted Muammar Ghaddafi. The French president’s brief 25 July stopover in Tripoli would reinforce this impression. The preliminary agreements signed that day have become fully developed contracts in the public mind. And the revelations of the dictator’s son, conveniently poured into the ear of Le Monde, confirm what everyone knew had to be true.

But if it is true, if that is the deal, why would Ghaddafi’s son embarrass France’s president by exposing it for all the world to see? Does that augur well for future military cooperation? Why not remain discreet, and let things happen naturally as a result of gradually improved relations between Libya and the European Union? Why did Sarkozy have to liberate the nurses and doctor before signing contracts and agreements that had been under negotiation for years, while the prisoners endured “fictional” tortures in Libyan jails? Was the fake exploit just sugar coating on a bitter pill— stupendous military dealings with a pariah state—that European citizens would be forced to swallow?

If so, the sugar coating is gone. In humiliating the French president by exposing the deal he was desperately trying to hide from his gullible citizens, Saif al-Islam has sabotaged the supposed PR benefits accrued by Sarkozy’s showy show of concern for the fate of the Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor.

And what if Sarkozy did outsmart the Libyans, father & son, daughter & all? Tricky little guy, convincing them that the nurses and doctors would rot in Bulgarian jails that are almost as bad as the Libyan ones, and from there on in it would be a Franco-Libyan honeymoon? Might they want to get revenge? By spilling the beans, even if the beans are fake?

This cannot spare us the unpleasant task of facing yet another possibility: Nicolas Sarkozy did sincerely and effectively promise Libya re-entry into the cozy world of European finagling complete with military cooperation, arms deals, exploitation of natural resources, credibility, respectability, and Euros for all…in the heart of a Mediterranean Union… from which Israel would be excluded.
Some of the story is being confirmed. As the Guardian pointed out yesterday and the International Herald Tribune today,
European Aeronautic Defense & Space confirmed Friday that it was close to signing two weapons contracts with the government of Libya, which would be the first arms deal with the North African country since the European Union lifted military sanctions nearly three years ago.

Word of the contracts, worth €296 million, or $405 million, by some reports, came just a week after President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and his wife, Cécilia, visited Tripoli, visits that contributed to the release of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had spent more than eight years in prison for supposedly deliberately infecting hundreds of Libyan children with the virus that causes AIDS. The case had long strained Libya's relations with the European Union.
The news that EADS - which is 15% owned by the French government - had "finalised" the deal to sell French-designed Milan anti-tank missiles came 48 hours after Saif ul-Islam Gadafy told Le Monde that Libya would be buying the anti-tank missiles from France.
One wonders what else is going to come out about the deal. While, of course, we are all very pleased that the Bulgarian medics are free and back in Europe (the Palestinian born doctor, who had had a particularly bad time because the Libyans dislike the Palestinians, had lived in Bulgaria for some years) we cannot help wondering what will happen next time some tyrannical dictator, such as Colonel Gaddafi decides that he wants to buy some arms and there are difficulties in his way.

One thing is certain. As a demonstration of Europe’s successful soft power the story leaves something to be desired.