Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Credit Where It Isn't Due

Author and foreign policy scholar Ronald Bruce St John has recently penned an article for the Summer 2004 edition of the Middle East Journal concerning his foremost area of expertise, Libya (the article is not yet available online, but can be located in the hard copy version of the Journal). The focus of St John's most recent work, entitled "Libya Is Not Iraq": Preemptive Strikes, WMD and Diplomacy, is the alleged link, or lack thereof, between the Bush administration's policy of preemptive strikes and the decision by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi to renounce his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

Ever since the momentous breakthrough was achieved in December 2003, the Bush administration, and the right wing punditry, from William Safire to Charles Krauthammer, have been quick to attribute Qadhafi's decision to the policy of preemptive war, as manifested by the invasion of Iraq. According to this version of events, Qadhafi dramatically changed courses, offering up his WMD program out of fear for his safety in the wake of Saddam's deposal. Witnessing the Bush administration's show of resolve to carry out preemptive warfare, he supposedly had a change of heart. Bush himself insinuated as much in his 2004 State of the Union address (as quoted by St. John):

Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible, and no one can now doubt the word of America.
Leaving aside the fact that Bush is wrong about the well documented efficacy of the 12 years of diplomacy in relation to Iraq's WMD programs, particularly the overwhelming success of the two-part regime of sanctions and inspections, Bush misconstrues the realities of the negotiation process with Libya and the effect that invading Iraq had on the ongoing effort. Far from a relatively brief "nine months of intense negotiations," American, British and Libyan officials had been traversing the diplomatic channels concerning this, and other issues, for almost fifteen years in an effort to normalize relations between Libya and the rest of the world.

St John lays out, in meticulous detail, how Qadhafi has been making repeated overtures to American administrations, with varying degrees of receptiveness, from as far back as the George H. W. Presidency. The purpose of these attempts at reconciliation are rooted in Qadhafi's desire to bring to an end the debilitating, and apparently effective from an incentive point of view, sanctions and boycotts implemented by the United States and the United Nations as punishment for the Libyan regime's involvement in terrorist activities, and other disruptive geopolitical practices. As St John put it succinctly, "Qadhafi has been trying to come in from the cold for well over a decade."

The earliest outward signs of the sea-change in Qadhafi's policy worldview came in January 1989 when Libya returned the body of a U.S. airman shot down during the 1986 bombing raid. This act was followed closely by a series of public statements by Qadhafi and his top officials, discussing Libya's desire to mend fences and normalize relations with America. Though his initial entreaties were rebuffed, Libyan diplomats began to liaise with American contacts, including, oddly enough, Senator Gary Hart for a period in the early 1990's, as well as through the remainder of the Bush administration's tenure, and throughout the Clinton years. The talks centered around the primary policy goals that the U.S. held vis a vis Libya: Libya taking responsibility for its involvement in the Pan Am 103 bombing, Libya abandoning its state-sponsored terrorism in general, and Libya renouncing its weapons of mass destruction programs.

Though these talks were slow to produce tangible results, Libya began to re-shape its institutions, taking a more pro-Western posture, independent of the benefits of a direct quid pro quo arrangement. Qadhafi began to reverse the country's socialistic tendencies, and even began to realign its foreign policy imperatives. Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asian Affairs, noted the progress in an address given in November 1999, acknowledging that:

Libyan support for terrorism had declined, citing the expulsion of the Abu Nidal organization from Libya. He also welcomed the transfer of Libyan support from Palestinian rejectionists to the Palestinian Authority, viewing it as a strong signal of Libyan support for the peace process...That said, Libya is not Iraq. We do not seek to maintain sanctions until there is a change of regime in Tripoli. [emphasis added]
As evidence of how the relationship had warmed, the U.S. did not oppose Libyan participation in a United Nations mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in February 2000, which marked "the first Libyan involvement in an international peacekeeping operation in a decade."

The main sticking point in these negotiations remained the Pan Am 103 incident, and all other issues took the back-seat to this matter of continued public interest. Nevertheless, the groundwork was laid in other areas, specifically the renunciation of Libya's WMD programs. As early as 1992, Libya first suggested a willingness to discuss the abandonment of its WMD programs. Later, in May 1999, Libya expressed a preference to utilize the Chemical Weapons Convention as a vehicle to disarm, which is the treaty they eventually joined in March 2004.

In the meantime, Qadhafi continued to sidle up to the United States. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Qadhafi immediately, and publicly, condemned the attacks, expressing sympathy for the victims and urging humanitarian aid, even from nations with political differences in the region. Over the next months, Qadhafi proved a willing ally in the effort against al-Qaeda, freely sharing Libyan intelligence on Bin Laden, al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups with British and American operatives. Qadhafi even went as far as to publicly offer a $1 million reward for information on certain identified persons associated with Islamist movements within his sphere of influence.

Then, in August 2003, after lengthy legal negotiations, Libya put to rest the biggest impediment to normalizing relations with the U.S. by accepting responsibility for the involvement of Libyan officials in the Pan Am 103 bombing, not accepting responsibility for the bombing itself but acknowledging the role some officials played in the event. In addition, Libya agreed to pay the families the sum of $2.7 each. Approximately one month later, the United Nations lifted their sanctions, although the U.S. would maintain their sanctions until the WMD issue was resolved, this being the last area left open from the tripartite concerns of Pan Am 103, WMDs and support for terrorism (along with some humanitarian issues that were added at this stage - though of less consequence).

But the process to bring closure to the WMD issue had already began before the announcement of the Pan Am 103 settlement. In March 2003, Libya approached the Britain about joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, the treaty that was first discussed in 1999. At Britain's request, Libya consented to the inclusion of the U.S. in these talks, seeing this two tiered approach, negotiating Pan Am 103 and WMDs, as the most expedient way to get out from under both the UN sanctions and the U.S. sanctions. Aggressively pursuing the WMD issue at this juncture was a particularly effective way to curry favor with an erstwhile recalcitrant Bush administration, considering the prominence WMDs were taking in the media and public concern at large within the United States. Although Libya invited inspectors in to verify disarmament in September 2003, the agreement was formalized in December 2003 (days before the capture of Saddam Hussein).

With the situation in Iraq growing increasingly unstable, and dealing with the loss of credibility over not finding the vaunted stockpiles of WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration was hard pressed to find fresh justifications for the loss of life and expenditure of money resulting from the war. The historic breakthrough with Libya seemed the perfect fit. Administration officials claimed that the shift in Libyan policy was the direct result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "But the shift in Libyan policy was the product of a lengthy, systematic process begun by the Qadhafi regime in the early 1990's and consistently pursued for more than a decade." While the Bush team deserves credit for seeing this process to fruition, it is misleading for them, or the right wing punditry, to ignore the history of these events and try to recast it as a ramification of the invasion of Iraq. "Mounting evidence, including statements from diplomats and politicians involved at different points in the Libyan negotiations, [strongly suggests] that these two events were largely, if not wholly, unrelated." If anything, the success exemplified by the diplomatic efforts with Libya highlights a contrast in styles to the preemptive strike doctrine.

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