Here's a hypothetical. Suppose you are a guy who murdered some people. It's not exactly clear how many, but let's say a lot. In fact, you already paid reparations to the relatives of some of the people you killed. That's not exactly an admission of guilt, but it's close.
People who have investigated the charges against you are convinced that you did it. Indeed, you have hardly bothered to deny it. You haven't done any jail time, either, because you have very good lawyers. You have, however, cleaned up your act and promised never, ever to kill people again. You've invited prominent people to your very nice house, and there you have shown them how deeply sorry you are.
What happens next? Well, these prominent people - who, it turns out, include the secretary of defense and the secretary of state - write a letter to legislators saying that you really shouldn't have to pay the rest of the reparations. All those uncompensated relatives - can money ever really repair the pain? Besides, you're really very sorry. Darned sorry. Oh, so sorry.
Also, you are sitting on an ocean of oil. Oil is a very powerful disinfectant. Makes all those nasty murder germs go away.
You are Libya. You probably figured that out. Back when you were the fourth spoke of the Axis of Evil, you bombed a disco in Berlin (three people killed), attacked an airline ticket counter in Rome (13 people killed), hijacked a plane out of Karachi (20 people killed) and, oh yes, exploded a bomb aboard a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland (270 people killed).
Libya paid a niggardly $8 million in reparations in the Lockerbie case, and it is haggling about the $2 million it still owes.
Of course, there are other lawsuits pending. If all the suits went against Libya, its total exposure would be in the neighborhood of $3 billion to $6 billion. That's not a neighborhood it likes so much. So it has asked its friends at the oil companies, with whom it very much wants to do business if only those annoying lawsuits would go away, to help out.
According to the extremely useful reportage of Eric Lipton in the New York Times, Libya has paid a lobbyist $2.4 million (more than enough to settle the remaining Lockerbie claims) to press its case before Congress. And it's persuaded four Cabinet officers of the oil-cozy Bush administration to write a letter to Congress.
What Libya wants is an exemption to a recently passed law that all terrorism judgments must be paid in full or the U.S. government has the right to seize the assets of the offending country. If Congress does grant the exemption, then Libya promises, really promises, to settle all outstanding claims for, well, not quite as much money as is being requested.
Otherwise, Libya might just have to take its oil business somewhere else. And it really doesn't want to do that, probably.
So this is our commitment to fighting terror. It would appear that al Qaeda's biggest problem is its stateless nature - if only it owned some land, it could pinky-swear not to attack Americans and love capitalism as much as everyone else loves capitalism, and all would be forgiven. But al Qaeda has no oil, and thus no means of obtaining forgiveness.
Two of the people killed in the Berlin bombing were U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany because that's where their country sent them. To say that it's OK to kill these soldiers as long as you (a) are sorry and (b) have oil could be considered, at the very least, insulting to the other military personnel who have put their lives on hold to go to a foreign land and fight someone in order to protect something, details to come.
I am aware that hypocrisy is as necessary to politics as money and power. I am aware that yesterday's enemies are often today's friends - just look at Iran and the United States, partners in fighting the evil Sunni militias. And I am certainly aware that the current administration bends over backward - or forward, depending on who's asking - to help oil companies maximize their profits and minimize their taxes.
But I am surprised that our politicians (including the Democrats, God knows) are so willing to sell out the troops whenever large corporations ask them to. The only real "stop loss" policy is the one that seeks to stop multinationals from losing money. At least our men and women in uniform know whom they're fighting for: Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Dow Chemical, ConocoPhillips, Hess, Occidental and Marathon Oil. Maybe at least they could all get vouchers for a free fill-up.
Oh, the dead people? Yes, that was unfortunate. We all agree about that. Perhaps the relatives would like this attractive clock-radio.