October 27, 2011 | National Review Online

Our Libyan Adventure

Qaddafi’s dictatorship was preferable to an Islamist Libya.
October 27, 2011 | National Review Online

Our Libyan Adventure

Qaddafi’s dictatorship was preferable to an Islamist Libya.

‘Are you suggesting that we would be better off with the Qaddafi dictatorship still in effect?” asked Chris Wallace, browbeating presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

And why shouldn’t he? After all, the Fox News anchor had just gotten Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Lindsey Graham to perform the requisite “Arab Spring” cartwheels over the demise of Libyan strongman Moammar Qaddafi. Apparently, when leading from behind ends up leading to a vicious murder at the hands of a wild-eyed mob, even folks who once got the sniffles over fastidiously non-lethal waterboarding can feel good about pulling out their party hats.

Imagine, then, the gall of Bachmann. The Minnesota Republican persisted in finding the cankers on the Arab Spring smiley face.

The most obviously ugly of these is that a throng of seething Islamists stripped, beat, paraded, and finally shot Qaddafi execution-style, all the while screaming the signature “Allahu Akbar!” battle cry with a fervor that would have made Mohamed Atta blush. They then shoved the despot’s corpse into a refrigerator — to maintain it for further triumphant display before thousands of gawking spectators. Too bad there was no official from the Obama administration’s Islamic Thought Police on hand to remind the mob of the Koran’s oft-quoted (but oftener ignored) teaching that to slay a single person is to slay all of mankind.

The murder was facilitated by NATO forces operating under false pretenses: Claiming they were merely protecting civilians, they set about hunting down Qaddafi, only to help usher in a new era of Islamist governance. The bill for NATO’s services was willfully footed by the Obama administration — which had previously funded the Libyan regime on the oft-repeated grounds that Qaddafi was a valuable counterterrorism ally, but which then initiated a war against Qaddafi in the absence of any provocation or American national-security interests. NATO’s war of aggression is already inuring to the benefit of America’s Islamist enemies. What’s not to celebrate?

Though Representative Bachmann made the case gamely, she eventually withered. Mr. Wallace has previously intimated that she is a “flake” (Wallace’s word), too often out of step with Beltway wisdom. And who wouldn’t want to be in step with Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham, and Barack Obama? Washington wisdom is fickle — one day you’re a Qaddafi booster, the next day you’re switching your bets to the Muslim Brotherhood. But no one wants to be a flake. So Bachmann finally got with the program and admitted, “The world certainly is better off without Qaddafi. I agree with Lindsey Graham.”

I don’t. Yes, Qaddafi was a creep. If we lived in a static, zero-sum world where the killing of a single creep equaled a net decrease in global creepiness, that might be cause for cartwheels. But the world is dynamic. When one leader is ousted, another takes his place. Even if the leader happened to be a tyrant with a yellowing résumé of anti-American terrorism, it matters what his status is when the Arab Spring comes a-callin’. It matters who replaces him and how that transition comes to pass. The changing threat environment matters. The example we set, what it tells others about our principles, matters.

To borrow Mr. Wallace’s phrase, I am not “suggesting that we would be better off with the Qaddafi dictatorship still in effect.” I am saying it outright. If the choice is between an emerging Islamist regime and a Qaddafi dictatorship that cooperates with the United States against Islamists, then I’ll take Qaddafi. If the choice is between tolerating the Qaddafi dictatorship and disgracing ourselves by lying about the reason for initiating a war and by turning a blind eye to the atrocities of our new Islamist friends — even as we pontificate about the responsibility to protect civilians — then give me the Qaddafi dictatorship every time.


Just to review what happened here: Qaddafi was not merely ousted. He was not “brought to justice,” as our government likes to put it when, say, the president of Iraq is captured and handed over to a foregone conclusion of a death-penalty tribunal; or when the emir of al-Qaeda gets the swifter due process of a ruthlessly efficient military strike. Those sorts of killings represent transparent wartime combat: The president makes the case that American national security is imperiled, Congress authorizes military attacks, and our armed forces violently subdue the enemy. It is not pretty, but it is honorable.

That cannot be said about Libya. In “leading from behind,” our government went rogue — to the evident satisfaction of the formerly antiwar Left. Obama claimed to be keeping the peace and protecting civilians while waging an unauthorized offensive war against Qaddafi’s government — a regime with which the United States was at peace; a regime with which the United States had made a great show of arriving at friendly relations; a regime to which the United States (urged on by such official emissaries as Sen. Lindsey Graham) had provided foreign aid, including assistance to prop up Qaddafi’s military; a regime to which the Obama administration, including Secretary Clinton’s State Department, had stepped up American taxpayer subsidies — including aid to Qaddafi’s military and contributions to charitable enterprises managed by Qaddafi’s children.

Protecting civilians? Please. We jumped in as a partisan on the side of the Islamists, who sported violent jihadists in their ranks and among their commanders — including al-Qaeda operatives whose dossiers included a stint at Guantanamo Bay and the recruitment of jihadists to fight a terror war against American troops in Iraq. While NATO targeted Qaddafi, the rebels rounded up black Africans, savagely killing many. (See, e.g., John Rosenthal’s reporting on summary executions, lynching, and a beheading — but be forewarned that the accompanying images are deeply disturbing.)

When the Islamists finally began seizing territory, which they could not have done without NATO, they raided weapons depots. In Qaddafi’s Libya, his regime controlled the materiel; once the “rebels” swept in, weapons started going out — to other Islamists, like al-Qaeda in Northwest Africa and Hamas in Gaza.

And now that the Islamists have won, the first order of business, naturally, was to install sharia — Islam’s politico-legal framework that oppresses non-Muslims, women, homosexuals, and apostates. To install sharia, by the way, is the reason jihadists engage in violence — it is the prerequisite for Islamizing a society. On Sunday, before a crowd still giddy over Qaddafi’s murder, Transitional National Council leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil proclaimed, “This revolution was looked after by Allah to achieve victory.” Allah will thus be honored, he elaborated, by making sharia the “basic source” of Libyan law. Polygamy for men has already been reestablished, and lenders have been banned from collecting interest on loans. Happy democracy!

Qaddafi had last attacked the United States almost a quarter-century ago. Before that, he’d endured punishing retaliation for his Reagan-era terror attacks. The Bush 43 administration had declared these hostilities settled. The two governments resolved outstanding claims — much to the chagrin of those of us outraged by the moral equivalence drawn between Qaddafi’s terrorist aggression and President Reagan’s righteous response.


But a deal is a deal — as the Left is quick to remind us whenever the U.S. makes international agreements that end up disserving American interests. In this instance, we were told the deal had been a good one. Qaddafi abandoned his advanced weapons programs and began providing what the Bush and Obama administrations regarded as vital intelligence — vital, no doubt, because Libya is rife with Islamists who despise America and the West. Indeed, on a per capita basis, more Libyans traveled to Iraq to join in the jihad against American troops than nationals from any other country. Our government even took Libya off the list of state sponsors of terrorism because, as the State Department put it in 2008, Libya had become “an increasingly valuable partner against terrorism.”

In the last several years, the Libyan regime never even threatened, much less attacked, American interests. Qaddafi spoke glowingly of Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and of President Obama, the Bush and Obama administrations embraced him and supported his regime. There was nothing close to a casus belli for the United States to launch a war against his government. The rationalization about the regime attacking civilians is nonsense: Qaddafi never stopped repressing Libyans in the years we were allied with him, and our aid to him only increased; Libya is a brutal society in which Qaddafi’s demise will not stop the internecine savagery; and we don’t intervene when hostile governments in Iran, Syria, China, Russia, and elsewhere repress their citizens.

Yet, President Obama invaded without congressional authorization — just consultations with the Arab League and a Security Council resolution that called for a no-fly zone to protect civilians, not for war against Qaddafi or regime change. Even as Obama paid lip-service to this charade, promising Americans there would be no U.S. “boots on the ground,” he dispatched covert intelligence operatives to guide the Islamists. Senator Graham — Qaddafi’s tent guest and military-aid supporter in 2009 — wondered aloud why we couldn’t just “drop a bomb on” our erstwhile ally and “end this thing.” No congressional approval? No U.N. mandate? No problem. “I like coalitions,” Graham explained to CNN, “it’s good to have the U.N. involved. But the goal is to get rid of Qaddafi. . . . I would not let the U.N. mandate stop what is the right thing to do.”

The right thing to do? So hot was the senator to off the dictator that he even proposed that the president unilaterally declare Qaddafi as an enemy combatant so we could kill him without violating a longstanding executive order prohibiting the assassination of foreign leaders. That might have been a swell idea but for the inconvenience that Qaddafi did not qualify as an “enemy” or a “combatant” under the governing statute — a law that happens to have been written by Senator Graham. Of course, if there had been a case that Qaddafi’s regime had become America’s enemy and that war was needed to overthrow him, the administration could have made it to Congress. The president never even tried — such an argument would have been frivolous.

That is not to say the administration was above frivolous legal claims. President Obama overruled administration lawyers who ever so gently pointed out that his sustained war-making ran afoul of the War Powers Act — a suspect piece of legislation, but one the administration was loath to ignore given Obama’s support of it (at least until he became the president whose hands it tied). Not to worry: Obama reached outside his Justice Department to find his trusty State Department counsel Harold Koh — the former Yale Law School dean, War Powers Act enthusiast, and incessant critic of the cowboy militarism of George W. Bush (you may recall Bush as the president who used to get Congress’s blessing before attacking other countries). Presto: Koh rationalized that invading Libya, dropping bombs on it, and trying to kill its leader didn’t quite rise to the level of “hostilities” — suddenly, a very elusive concept. Party on, dudes!

Qaddafi’s escape from his last holdout was thus cut off by NATO airstrikes. Trapped and hidden in a sewer, he was dragged out and brutalized — not for intelligence, but for sport. There is video here if you can stomach it. What NATO abetted was not a military capture. It was an assassination. We will be worse off that it happened. And the way it happened should sicken us.

— Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.