Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Since Muammar Qaddafi agreed to abandon his banned-weapons programs last December, Bush, Powell, Cheney, and other members of the administration have not hesitated to cite Libyan disarmament as a positive result of the otherwise diastrous invasion of Iraq; in fact, they've brought it up on two hundred separate occasions. But, as David Gargill argues in the November Harper's (not, alas, online), the show of American force had little, if anything, to do with Qaddafi's announcement. Negotiations with the West had in fact been going on for years, and the Libyan strongman had been hoping to cut a deal since Bush's pop was in office:
As early as 1992, according to a January account from former senator Gary Hart in the Washington Post, Libya was trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to get into America's good graces and had expressed a willingness to surrender the suspects in the Lockerbie bombing. Libya handed over the two suspects in 1999 -- the same year it paid restitutions for the for the bombing of the UTA airline over Niger and for the 1984 killing of a British policewoman at the Libyan embassy in London -- and the U.N. suspended its sanctions. To end U.S. sanctions -- which hinged on Libya's forsaking terrorism and weapons of mass destruction -- Qaddafi made overtures throughout the Clinton years. Martin Indyk, assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs from 1997 to 2000, told me that Qaddafi clearly was seeking a positive relationship with the United States and was willing to do almost anything to achieve it. "We were the ones who held it up, not him. We weren't in a hurry to get into bed with him; we needed to test him and see if he was serious. He has recidivist tendencies." Indyk says that at a meeting in Geneva in 1999, Libya offered to cut terrorist ties and to fully expose its weapons programs . . . .
In its haste to claim Libya as a triumph, the administration has treated Qaddafi as if he has undergone a genuine reformation, when in fact that may not be the case. In April the United States repealed virtually all sanctions against Libya, something Bush had announced would occur only when Qaddafi's government demonstrated "definitive action to assist in the fight against international terrorism." But by June, the caution that past administrations had exercised when dealing with Qaddafi proved warranted: several newspapers reported that Libya was behind a possible plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah . . . . The White House, undeterred by these developments, has continued its rush to normalize relations with Tripoli: in September it rescinded remaining economic restrictions, permitting direct travel between the two countries and freeing up U.S. access to Libya's substantial oil reserves.
When Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry dared suggest of Libya's renunciation, "We could've had that deal some time ago," Colin Powell responded with disdain: "That's absurd. I don't know what Senator Kerry is talking about." President Bush also has dismissed such claims and instead has spent the past ten months touting what he contends is his administration's effective marriage of force and diplomacy. But if, as Bush and his cohorts suggest, the invasion of Iraq was intended as a lesson to other rogue states, then its pedagogical value is dubious at best. With most of the United States military tied up in the one Axis of Evil country that has proven not to have weapons of mass destruction, Iran and North Korea have brazenly advanced their nuclear programs. And as Martin Indyk has concluded, "The record shows [that] Libyan disarmament did not require a war in Iraq." Indeed Qaddafi's longstanding efforts to reconcile with the West demonstrate, at least in part, that sanctions and other international pressures can be effective deterrents as well as a viable alternative to war.