15:   Lies Birth a Progeny of Misrepresentation

William Krehm

The New York Times (23/01, "Why Libya Gave Up On the Bomb" by Flynt Leverett) offers us a lesson of how a single misrepresentation in public policy can beget a whole further generation of distortion. Mr. Leverett, a former senior director for Middle Eastern Affairs at the National Security Council from 2002 to 2003, was in a position to know what led up to Libya’s surrender of its weapons of massive destruction projects:

"Washington – As President Bush made clear in his State of the Union address, he sees the striking development in relations with Libya as the fruit of his strategy in the war on terrorism. The idea is that Col. Muammar el Quaddafi’s apparent decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction was largely a result of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which thus retroactively justifies the war in Iraq and holds out the prospect of similar progress with other states that support terrorists, seek weapons of mass destruction, and brutalize their people.

"However, the president misrepresents the real lesson of the Libyan case. The roots of the recent progress with Libya go back not to the eve of the Iraq war, but to the Bush administration’s first year in office. Indeed, some credit should even be given to the second Clinton administration. Tired of international isolation and economic sanctions, the Libyans decided in the late 1990s to seek normalized relations with the US, and held secret discussions with Clinton administration officials to convey that message. The Clinton White House made clear that no movement toward better relations was possible until Libya met its responsibilities for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.

"These discussions, along with mediation by the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, produced a breakthrough. Libya turned over two intelligence officers implicated in the Pan Am 103 attack to the Netherlands for trial by a Scottish court, and in 1999 Washington acquiesced to the suspension of United Nations sanctions against Libya.

"Then in the spring of 2001, when I was a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, the Bush administration picked up on those discussions and induced the Libyans to meet their remaining Lockerbie obligations. With our British colleagues, we presented the Libyans with a ‘script’ indicating what they needed to do and say to satisfy our requirements on compensating the families of the Pan Am 103 victims.

"By early 2003, after a Scottish appeals court upheld the conviction of one of the Libyan intelligence officers, it was evident that our approach would bear fruit. But during these two years of talks, American negotiators consistently told the Libyans that resolving the Lockerbie situation would lead to no more than elimination of the United Nations sanctions. To get out from under the separate US sanctions, Libya would have to address concerns regarding its programs in weapons of mass destruction.

"This is the context in which the Libyan officials approached the US and Britain last spring to discuss dismantling Libya’s nuclear weapons program. The Iraq war, which had not yet started, was not the driving force behind Libya’s move. Rather, Libya was willing to deal because of credible diplomatic representations by the United States over the years, which convinced the Libyans that doing so was critical to achieving their goals.

"The lesson is incontrovertible: to persuade a rogue regime to get out of the terrorism business, we must not only apply pressure but also make clear the potential benefits of cooperation. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has refused to take this approach with other rogue regimes. Until the president is willing to employ carrots as well as sticks, he will make little headway in changing Iranian and Syrian behavior.

"As President Assad of Syria told me, Syria is ‘a state, not a charity’ – if it gives up something, it must know what it will gain in return."

Such a whopper on what happened when and because of what in Libya’s peaceful surrender of its nuclear armament may have helped deliver a second term to President Bush by means as flawed as what placed him in the White House in the first place.

William Krehm

-- from Economic Reform, April 2005