What is the difference between a sadistic oil-rich Arab dictator who must be backed and fêted by the West and a sadistic oil-rich Arab dictator who must be bombed and sanctioned into submission? Answer: none. The lucky dictator in the 1980s was Saddam Hussein and today it is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The unlucky dictator in the 1980s was Gaddafi and the unlucky one today is Saddam.
Let me say it slowly. The difference (apart from the lies - when was Saddam ever feted ? And "Saddam did not sponsor any terror network" - what about the payments to suicide bombers' families ?) is that having taken note of Saddam's fate, Quaddafi has decided it's time to stop the anti-Western rhetoric and to forget about developing WMDs, despite all the assistance provided by Pakistan. He's not alone - North Korea and Iran are both getting cosy with US and international nuclear inspectors after years of secrecy.
Of course he's still a very bad man. No doubt of that. And as SJ rightly points out, his change of heart is totally self-interested. But what do you do with bad men ? You can 'engage' or cut a deal with these people, something SJ here denounces as the triumph of cynicism. Or you can strike the bad man down as in Iraq, or bomb as we did with Quaddafi 20 years back, and be slated for only creating more terror.
SJ, along with a large part of the Left, would prefer a Third Way. Our government should roundly condemn and abuse such dictators, thus annoying and alienating them, while doing nothing to stop whatever bad deeds they may be up to. This policy of course was tried by Labour, the Liberals, and half the Conservative Party in the years 1933-1939, with conspicuous success.
Now Quaddafi's no Hitler and Libya's no Germany. But with Pakistani scientists, apparently backed by the Army, handing out the technology to every Abdul, Ibrahim and Youssuf, they don't need to be. The nuclear genie may now be out of the bottle.
Mr Churchill spoke of this Third Way in March 1934.
"The Opposition is very free-spoken, as are most of us in this country, on the conduct of the German Nazi Government. No one has been more severe in their criticism than the Labour Party or that section of the Liberal Party which I see opposite... But these criticisms are fiercely resented by the powerful men who have Germany in their hands. So we are to disarm our friends, we are to have no allies, we are to affront powerful nations, and we are to neglect our own defences entirely. That is a miserable and perilous situation."
It's also the situation Simon Jenkins, half of Labour, and the whole of the Lib Dems would like us to be in.