ST. James's Square is one of those London oases of mellow tranquillity, rich in history and tradition. In the heart of the West End, it is nevertheless quiet, and usually unruffled. Grand old mansions line its four sides. Today they mainly house clubs and scholarly institutions and big trading companies, which proclaim their occupancy by discreet brass nameplates, or sometimes not at all.
In one of these mansions, now the East India Club, the Prince Regent was brought the news of the victory at Waterloo in 1815, reading Wellington's dispatch in the library.
Now, each August, the club serves its members special mulberry pie, the fruit being picked from the private gardens guarded by tall railings in the center of the square.
In that square today, a little memorial marked by flowers is a remembrance of an April day in 1984 when the square was far from peaceful. One of its historic buildings was then occupied by the Libyan People's Bureau, the equivalent of a Libyan embassy. In a fracas of a kind unheard of in London, Libyan ``diplomats'' fired from their building on anti-Qaddafi demonstrators, killing a British policewoman. Eleven others were wounded by their gunfire.
After some drama, the Libyans were tossed out and their embassy closed down, and in it the police found weapons and spent shell casings and paraphernalia not standard issue in the conduct of diplomacy.
It should have come as no surprise. Western intelligence experts have long known that Libyan embassies are storehouses for arms and explosives used in various terrorist activities originated, orchestrated, or sanctioned by Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
A lot of this activity has been directed against anti-Qaddafi exiles. Libyan diplomats have been caught red-handed in plots to kill dissidents.
Libyan businessmen, students, former diplomats, and lawyers who have turned against Qaddafi have been found strangled, or shot, or with their throats slit in a string of cities from Athens to Rome to Bonn.
One of the most dramatic Qaddafi assassination attempts was against former Libyan Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Bakkush, who had sought sanctuary in Egypt. An elaborate Egyptian ``sting'' operation, complete with pictures of the ``murdered'' Mr. Bakkush, fooled the Libyans into thinking they had succeeded. Mr. Bakkush was then produced, in good health, by the Egyptians.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is a prime target of Colonel Qaddafi, as are a number of other Arab leaders whose moderation enrages the Libyan leader.
The United States and Israel, however, are the principal demons Qaddafi sees besetting him as he strives to reshape not only Libya, but the world.
In pursuit of his goals, he sees himself as the spokesman for, and manipulator of, radical forces. He supports and encourages subversive groups. Terrorism is one of his primary instruments.
Thus Qaddafi's fingerprints are found in murder and terrorism at the Rome and Vienna airports, and in dozens of other capitals. He has a cozy relationship with the Abu Nidal Palestinian terrorist group. He has meddled in the Sudan and Tunisia; he invaded and annexed part of Chad. He has sent money and weapons to Nicaragua, where several dozen Libyan military personnel are assigned. He has aided insurgents in Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia. His ``people's bureau,'' or embassy, in Grenada was very active until US intervention halted the leftward landslide of that Caribbean island.
Qaddafi has aided separatists in Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, and New Caledonia.
His record of international thuggery is beyond question.
It may be true that his recent confrontation with the US Sixth Fleet may puff him up temporarily. But a greater mistake would be to allow his campaign of international terrorism to go unbridled, unchallenged, unpunished.