Deal with a Devil

Some thoughts on the Libyan developments of this weekend:

Libya has been working to shed its pariah image for years, but it still hasn’t gone far enough

There’s no doubt Libya has been a bad seed since the 1969 coup brought Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi to power. His government exported terrorism, revolution and generally rocked the boat wherever possible. But because of the United Nations sanctions imposed in 1992 for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, Libya’s support for terrorism has been waning. In 1999, the sanctions were suspended and on Sept. 12, 2003, they were finally lifted. However, Libya is still a nasty place to live, with massive human rights violations on par with Saddam Hussein’s. Human Rights Watch says

Over the past three decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling. It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials. Today hundreds of people remain arbitrarily detained, some for over a decade, and there are serious concerns about treatment in detention and the fairness of procedures in several on-going high profile trials before the Peoples’ Courts. Libya has been a closed country for United Nations and non-governmental human rights investigators.

Sound familiar? By the way, today, Dec. 21, 2003 is the 15th anniversary of the Lockerbie attack that killed 270 people. Family members of the victims are not pleased with this deal. President Bush, in his remarks on Friday, made no mention of the bombing. So America gets to overlook a history of terrorism and human rights abuses and Qadhafi likely gets full diplomatic recognition and and end to the economic and diplomatic isolation that many Libyans resented. The unintended consequence will be that Col. Qadhafi just got a new lease on his political life, since this will allow him to crack down on dissent, much of which has been of the Islamist variety.

This leads me to another point:

Pointing to the Iraq war as the driving force in getting Libya to cooperate is just an attempt to claim a success from the debacle that Iraq has become.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said, “We showed after Saddam Hussein failed to cooperate with the UN that we meant business and Libya, and I hope other countries, will draw that lesson.”

Hm. Have we? And will they? A good chunk of the U.S. military is tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan or otherwise engaged. It’s highly unlikely the U.S. could mount another military campaign to topple a government even if it had good reason to do so. The threat of a Iraq-sized invasion is an empty one and Iran, Sudan, North Korea and, yes, Libya know it.

Instead of fearing the Bush Doctrine of preemptive attacks, “bad guy” countries can see that possessing WMDs is a good way to wring concessions from a superpower they might not have received otherwise. Because the U.S. doesn’t have any other choice. It’s these rogue nations with WMDs that are arguing from a position of strength, not the U.S.

President Bush said on Friday,

We obtained an additional United Nations Security Council Resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to prove that he had disarmed, and when that resolution was defied, we led a coalition to enforce it. All of these actions by the United States and our allies have sent an unmistakable message to regimes that seek or possess weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons do not bring influence or prestige. They bring isolation and otherwise unwelcome consequences. (Emphasis added.)

Some problems with that. No Iraqi weapons of mass destruction have been found. Iraq said it didn’t have them, and damned if Saddam’s regime wasn’t telling the truth this time. The whole world thinks the WMD charge is a MacGuffin. By the way, the resolution Bush mentioned, UNSCR 1441, said:

The Security Council, …

Decides that, in order to begin to comply with its disarmament obligations, in addition to submitting the required biannual declarations, the Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles and dispersal systems designed for use on aircraft, including any holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, sub-components, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment, the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities, as well as all other chemical, biological, and nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to weapon production or material; …

all of which it appears now Iraq actually did. The government of Iraq said they didn’t have any unconventional weapons and — whaddya know?! — they didn’t.

I was as surprised as anyone. I called the 7,000-page Iraqi declaration that the country was “devoid of weapons of mass destruction” a suicide note, and wondered what the Iraqis were up to. (Note to consistency watchers: Before the war, I believed Saddam possessed some kind of unconventional arsenal, just not one worth going to war over. Some chems, certainly, maybe some biologicals, no nukes — that was my guess. I was wrong.)

Placing the Libyan deal in the context of the Iraq war is what is so infuriating. Actually, it’s this administration’s shifting rationales, attempts to claim successes and cynical of-the-momentism that are really infuriating. I mean, the rationale for invading Iraq right this very minute was to disarm the country of WMDs and remove an imminent threat to the survival of the United States. When that threat (and the arsenal) were proven to be a lie — or a gross incompetence in reading intelligence data — the war became one of liberation. And now the United States makes a deal with an oppressive dictator who killed a lot of innocent civilians — and a fair number of Americans — in a string of terrorist attacks. And claims a failed policy and a quagmire were the reasons for this bit of good news.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a good thing that Libya has agreed to give up its unconventional weapons programs; any successes in ridding the world of nasty weapons are welcome. But let’s not kid ourselves here. This is a deal with a devil, and the U.S. is making it because it has no other choice; forcible regime change is out of the question because the U.S. doesn’t have the resources. This is a big win for Qadhafi, a smaller win for American and Britain, and a wash for the people of Libya who now have a leader with a softened image, but still a fist of iron.

*UPDATE 12/22* Juan Cole has some “excellent thoughts”: on this issue. George over at also “weighs in”:, and includes a handy “dictator comparison chart.” And Josh Marshall, again, “finds a real nugget”: in the Pakistan connection to Libya’s WMD programs.