KICKING OUT those of Libya's diplomats who hadn't been expelled before doesn't resolve all of the United States' complaints against Col. Quaddafi. But it does say something. It says that the United States will not grant the usual diplomatic amenities to nations that breach so egregiously the norms of international behavior. The new expulsion order, for instance, is tied to the attempted assassination, in Colorado last October, of a Libyan dissident; he was shot twice in the face. Eight or so Libyan dissidents in Europe have actually been killed. With his oil billions and his Soviet patronage, Col. Qaddafi has conducted a practically non-stop run of coups, revolutions and acts of terrorism. He has been a prime international vandal for years.
It is suggested that the administration is taking a risk in expelling the Libyans since the United States buys huge quantities of oil from Libya and 2,000 Americans work in Libya. Yes, there is a risk. But was it not a risk to allow Libyan diplomats to stay here after acts of terrorism had been committed and after Libyans had burned down the American embassy in Tripoli and made it impossible for American diplomats to stay there? Did not such "understanding" carry its own seeds of danger for Americans interests in Libya, and perhaps elsewhere? As for Americans interests in Libya, Col. Qaddafi is not practicing charity in selling oil to American companies and allowing in 2,000 company employees. In return, for 4,000 Libyan students at American colleges. He has interests, too.
The truly worrisome part of the whole American-Libyan relationship is that the United States still does so little to reduce its dependence on Libya's oil. It can be argued that this country, by its oil fees, is the single largest financier, one time removed, of Libya's global depredations. In the dozen years of Col. Qaddafi's dictatorship, while Europeans have reduced or eliminated their oil imports from Libya, the United States has increased its imports by a factor of three.Jimmy Carter seemed often to be up on tippy-toes on this score, as though he were determined not to offend Col. Qaddafi. Ronald Reagan is ready to deal more at arm's length. Oil dependence keeps him from cutting Libya off.