December 16, 2004


Meeting Muammar: Is Libya's leader "finished"? (Vivienne Walt, Dec. 16, 2004, Slate)

More than two decades after President Reagan slapped an embargo against Qaddafi, Americans are back in full force, thanks to the leader's 2003 decision to abandon his quest for biological and chemical weapons and his earlier decision to extradite the two Libyan men suspected of the 1988 PanAm bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, one of whom was later convicted. Tripoli's swank $300-a-night Corinthia Hotel—built by savvy Maltese developers last year—is booked solid, and on many days the lobby resembles a U.S. corporate convention. One floor serves as temporary digs for the U.S. interest section, the precursor to a real embassy. It's no wonder that President Bush now touts Qaddafi as his one tangible post-9/11 success. "Look at Libya," Bush boasted to John Kerry back in October, during the first presidential debate, citing Qaddafi's decision to end his WMD program. "Libya understood that America and others will enforce doctrine."

What Qaddafi "understood" isn't at all clear, however. The leader's campaign against militant Islam began years before 9/11, when he became jittery about the fundamentalists filtering into Libya from neighboring Sudan. Wandering around Interpol headquarters recently in Lyon, France, recently, I was directed to a wall display, where the public relations officer pointed out a framed copy of the first international arrest warrant issued for Osama Bin Laden, back in 1998. "Who requested it?" I asked. "Libya," he answered. When I flew from Tripoli to the giant oil fields in the Sahara desert, workers told me they have their beards closely shaved before they take weekend trips to the capital. "We'll be arrested immediately if we look like we're extremists," said one.

Rather than being won over by Bush's threat of enforcing doctrine, it seems more likely that Qaddafi finally got the advice that had seemed obvious all along: Go for the money. That counsel came largely from his 32-year-old son Seif Al-Islam, who is now a doctoral student at the London School of Economics and who's widely regarded as Qaddafi's political heir (an outcome longed for in the West). When I met Seif in Tripoli, I asked whether his father had really joined Bush's war on terror. It was one of the few moments in which the cool, hip son snapped in anger. "If you're talking about these global networks, we are far away from these. They have their cells in America and Europe. They are targeting the West," he said in rapid-fire sentences. "We are away from the war. We shouldn't be part of that war." Earlier, Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem had told me that the government finally saw its WMD program was a hugely expensive waste of time "that didn't even necessarily make us safer!"

The recognition that true safety lay in friendship with the U.S. and economic development at home is a victory no matter how you slice it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2004 11:27 PM

Libya is Bush' "one tangible post-9/11 success"? Even assuming that she's limiting her scope to foreign successes (presumably the passage of almost his entire legislative agenda, not to mention reelection, were tangible successes) or that AQ's failure to strike at the homeland isn't tangible, isn't it amazing how soon the left forgets the invasion of Afghanistan, the election of a new Afghan president, the overthrow of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq and Saddam sitting in a cell?

Posted by: David Cohen at December 17, 2004 7:52 AM

Right, David. It enrages me how so many MSM types harp on the dangers of terrorists in Iraq as if they posed a worldwide threat. If you think back to what the Syria-Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan block looked like in 2001 and what Durban said about political winds in the Islamic world, it is impossible to argue that we all aren't a lot safer now. When was the last time we heard anyone prattle on about the Arab street?

Posted by: Peter B at December 17, 2004 8:37 AM