December 21, 2003 | National Review Online

Between Iraq & a Hard Place

Authored by Andrew Apostolou

Libya’s announcement that it will close down its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs is an important vindication of American and British foreign policy. After nine months of talks, Colonel Khaddafi’s regime has acknowledged the existence of weapons that were long denied. According to initial reports, Libya had the ability to manufacture chemical weapons, had attempted to acquire the ability to produce both nuclear and biological weapons and had ballistic-missile programs. The American-intelligence assessment that Libya was up to no good has been proved correct. Israeli intelligence, which had long been dismissed for pointing to Khaddafi’s nuclear ambitions, has chalked up a much-needed success.

The initial reaction of many pundits to the Libya announcement has been and will be both predictable and mistaken. There will be some breast-beating from hawks, who will hint that there has been appeasement of a repressive dictator with a notable record of terrorism. While the hawks are right to ask questions and subject the deal to rigorous scrutiny, it is implausible that either George Bush or Tony Blair would make such dramatic announcements without making a genuine breakthrough. In one important sense, the hawks have emerged smelling of roses. A key criticism of the hawks, that they and President Bush regard armed force as the only foreign-policy tool, that we are now in an era of permanent war, has been disproved, exposed as nonsense by Colonel Khaddafi.

An excessively critical attitude from the hawks will simply hand the argument to the “antiwar” commentators and the advocates of uncritical engagement for whom the fault always lies with the U.S. and her allies. These engagement advocates are already claiming that the negotiated deal with Libya shows that the war in Iraq was unnecessary, that polite conversation can secure disarmament. The myth that they are already spinning is that the Libyan statement foreswearing WMDs on December 19, 2003, resulted from a decade of alleged reforms and attempts to integrate Libya back into the international community. Rather than congratulate the Bush administration for a remarkable diplomatic coup, they are chiding it for waiting too long to press the flesh with Khaddafi.

Yet the evidence indicates that what brought Libya to the table was not multilateral engagement, but the brave and much criticized strategy of forcing terrorism sponsoring dictatorships to meet their obligations or meet their Maker. Indeed, the Libyans appear to have boosted rather than curbed their WMD ambitions after the U.N. suspended sanctions in 1999. The appeal of WMDs for Khaddafi and others was their potential value, not just as weapons with which to attack or deter, but also as bargaining chips. WMDs were hooks upon which to catch credulous foreigners looking for dialogue and oil contracts.

The announcement of Libyan disarmament could not have happened without the liberation of Iraq. That the deal was concluded just days after the capture of Saddam Hussein was a happy coincidence. What made all the difference, however, was that Bush and Blair enforced the U.N. resolutions on Iraq, ending the defiance of Saddam Hussein and the torment of the peoples of Iraq. Bush and Blair have turned the threat back onto the dictators, treating the WMD programs as the death warrants for these wicked regimes, not their tickets to survival. The liberation of Iraq communicated the simple point that international obligations are to be observed; they are not an initial negotiating position with which one quibbles, negotiates over, and ultimately evades. While many in the think-tank lunch circuit in Washington, D.C. may find it hard to grasp, this message has been received loud and clear in Tripoli.

As importantly, the agreement to disarm Libya was achieved by a cooperative Anglo-American approach and without the involvement of such bodies and the United Nations (U.N.) or the European Union (EU). Multilateral bodies, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will now play a role in dismantling the Libyan nuclear program, but their utility in negotiating with such regimes is limited.

The fact that France, Germany, and Russia were not directly involved in the contacts with Libya was also a key element in their success. We can only imagine the diplomatic fiasco that would have resulted from the French, German, or Russian foreign ministers landing in Tripoli to invite themselves into the negotiations as intermediaries. These supposed friends of the U.S. would have sent muddled signals to Khaddafi. Instead of facing a firm, but fair, Anglo-American position, the Libyan dictator would have ended up deluding himself — something that he does not find difficult — into believing that was an alternative to full compliance with his international obligations. Perhaps now is the time for that other victim of an overly active imagination, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, to confine himself to literature.

In coming months, the U.S. and Britain will have to ensure that there is no backsliding on Libya disarmament and should demand political reform in Khaddafi's highly repressive state. President Bush spoke on December 19, 2003 of “internal reform” and a Libya that could become “more free.” The Libyan people should not be asked to pay the price for Khaddafi's decision to come clean on WMDs by being condemned to his regime, nor should they suffer his buffoonish sons as their future overlords. Rapprochement should not just mean visits to the State Department, but a concern for the welfare of the much-ignored Libyan people.

Within one week, Saddam Hussein has been captured despite his vow to fight to the death, Iran has grudgingly signed up for additional nuclear inspections that it once called a violation of its national sovereignty, and Libya has agreed to surrender WMDs that it officially never had. After months of mistakes and misguided panic over postwar Iraq, the new British-American grand alliance confronting the terrorism supporting dictators has shown that it is both working and winning.

— Andrew Apostolou is director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute created after 9/11 and focusing on terrorism.

 

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Issues:

Libya