The Qaddafi affair

Neither you nor I can know whether Libya's mercurial, unpredictable, theatrical and perhaps irrational leader Muammar al-Qaddafi has actually ordered a team of trained goons to the United States to attempt the assassination of top leaders of the American government in Washington. But considering what has been going on between the US and Libya it would not be surprising.

The irony of the story is that, if it is true, then the men presumably stalking American leaders today were probably trained and armed by American CIA and Green Beret veterans.

I say probably so trained and armed by Americans, because it is an established fact that a pair of ex-CIA operators, Edwin P. Wilson and Frank E. Terbil, are today wanted by the FBI because of having illegally exported US weapons of the type used in clandestine terrorist activities to Libya, of setting up a training mission in Libya, using Green Berets, and also of setting up an arsenal in Libya for the making of more weapons.

It is conceivable that others have trained Libyans in the techniques of terrorism. It is possible that Soviet or other communist country sources have provided weapons to Libya. But this is theory, not known fact. The only known and proved training and arming of Libyans for such unpleasant deeds has been done by Americans.

This of course is of small comfort to the men who may be targets of Colonel Qaddafi's ''hit men.'' But it is also an example of how risky and uncertain is this game of going into the business of clandestine violence. The CIA is now officially forbidden to commit assassination. But at one time it was free to do so. It is on public record that CIA agents tried, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In more recent times top people in Washington have said a lot of unfavorable things about Colonel Qaddafi. Also, many reports have appeared in American newspapers and magazines asserting that persons inside the Reagan administration were preparing plans for the overthrow of the colonel.

The record shows that in the early days of the Reagan administration Colonel Qaddafi waved what appeared to be an olive branch toward Washington. It was logical for him to do so. He is a major supplier of oil to the US. A rational person likes to be on good terms with his customers. But whatever his true wishes or intentions, his overtures were rebuffed.

The extreme hostility with which Washington views Qaddafi is reflected in the statement by US Secretary of State Alexander Haig that the colonel is ''a cancer that has to be removed.'' He has also said that Libya is guilty of ''unacceptable norms of international behavior.''

Vice-President Bush has said of the colonel: ''He is an egomaniac who would trigger World War III to make the headlines. He's the world's principal terrorist and trainer of terrorists.''

When former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford flew back together from the Sadat funeral in Cairo they had a famous talk session. Transcripts of some of their remarks were later released by the White House in Washington. In those remarks Mr. Carter referred to Colonel Qaddafi as ''subhuman'' while Mr. Ford characterized him as a ''bully.''

In August US planes entered air space off the Libyan coast which the US contends is over ''high seas'' and therefore free to all, but which Libya contends is theirs. When Libyan planes then fired at the Americans, the Libyans lost the battle. Two were shot down.

From the Libyan point of view, which is in part shared by representatives of US oil companies resident in Libya, Colonel Qaddafi tried to make peace with Washington and was repulsed. He then sat back in his palace and read the unfriendly things said about him in Washington including, of course, the reports that Washington was planning ways and means to topple him from power in his own country.

So it is conceivable (although doubted by some officials at the FBI) that the reports are correct and that he has ordered a ''hit squad'' to the US as his most available way to protect himself.

But then it is also possible that someone has a stake in fomenting trouble between the US and Libya. All the stories about this Qaddafi affair say that information came to Washington from some unnamed informant. Who informed? What did he actually know? What were his motives? There are more questions than answers.

One thing stands out. Washington would be in a better position to obtain sympathy from other countries had it not once tried to assassinate Fidel Castro and had it not talked so much about getting rid of Colonel Qaddafi.

Meanwhile Colonel Qaddafi has been elevated by Washington's attention into a folk hero among Arabs. To them, it is once more the story of David against Goliath. David usually wins.

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