Almost lost in the backwash of hurricane news and convention aftermath last week was the stealth visit of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to the leader of the nation of Libya, Moammar Qaddafi, a former terrorist leader whom President Ronald Reagan called the “mad dog of the Middle East.” Buried on p. 10 in the Washington Post on September 6, and on p. 5 of the New YorkTimes that same day, the news stories report that Qaddafi has had a conversion, putting on the airs of a man of peace, a statesman, after years of directing horrific terrorist acts including creation of weapons of mass destruction and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. (See the State Department’s website on American-Libyan relations, including this chronology of key events since Libya was the Barbary State of Tripoli in 1786. Photo above from the State Department website.) This was the first visit of an American Secretary of State to Libya since 1953. Time Magazine has hailed Rice’s visit as an “unqualified success.”
Why has the Bush Administration, famous for invading Iraq and setting the stage for the trial and execution of another notorious dictator, Saddam Hussein, now extended an olive branch to the Libyan dictator who, unlike Hussein, actually admitted his role in Pan Am 103 and other acts of terrorism? In short, the U.S. wants an example of what good diplomacy and cooperation can accomplish, and Libya wants U.S. support for its infrastructure development. To get U.S. support, Libya had to meet certain goals, including removing any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and allowing U.S. agents in to certify the elimination of such weapons.
In a briefing at the State Department last week, Coordinator for Counter-terrorism Dell Daily outlined the benefits of close U.S.-Libyan cooperation:
“It’s going to allow us to expand cooperation in a lot of areas: education, culture, commerce, science, technology, human rights, and security. My aspect is, of course, counterterrorism security. I’m pleased to be here with folks who have been part of this process for a heck of a long time. I frankly had just watched it up until a year and a half ago as a concerned citizen; saw it as a success story and now, I’m pleased to be a part of it in the governmental perspective.
“Coming off of the state sponsored terrorism list is a pretty powerful tool. And both with the Libyans and with the North Koreans, it was a request on their part for us to extend this if they went through the appropriate WMD and nuclear and denuclearization process. It is a model for other countries to use and I’d like to echo what Paula said. We both took it from the same source: from the Secretary. They’ve been off the list since June 2006. And in that timeframe, there’s been some very close cooperation in virtually all the areas of counterterrorism across the national aspect: diplomatic, military, intelligence services, economics. So it’s been a good move.
“Where Libya has really been strong as – they’ve slowed down the movement of foreign fighters from their country through North Africa and ultimately, into Iraq. They’ve been good team members and partners on that. They’ve additionally been good team members on looking inside their own borders for potential foreign fighters that have gone across Northern Africa into Iraq. And now, we see a little bit of a shift possibly even into Afghanistan.
“And my final comment is an example of their cooperation not just with the United States, but with there are other countries there, foreign fighters that have moved from Libya into Syria that have been stopped by the Syrians have gone back to Libya. So there is a level of cooperation that’s increased dramatically in this timeframe, too.”
Donald Mahley, Special Negotiator for Non-Proliferation, outlined some of the benefits that Libya will now receive for good behavior:
“I would like to note that we are in the process, with United States financial assistance, of building in Libya a regional nuclear medical center. Now, this is something which is not yet present in Africa and will allow Libya to assume a role of leadership in some of the preventive medical capabilities that go about there. It is something, obviously, that involves nuclear technology and therefore is possible in Libya only after they made their 2003 decision to get rid of their nuclear weapons programs. It will benefit both the Libyan people and the Libyan Government in terms of its regional capabilities and its regional reputation. It is a significant outlay of United States dollars. It is also a significant outlay of Libyan talent and resources.
“And so with all of that, I think it’s just an example — and I want to point out that it’s only an example, of the kinds of things that this kind of behavior change by Libya opens the door for and allows us to go forward with in a very cooperative fashion. We’re doing some other things that we’re working with the Libyans on, but I think this is really a centerpiece that they’ve asked for, that satisfies some needs in terms of the use and employment of some of the people that were previously engaged in things of not such useful behavior with their same technologies, and, at the same, time does indeed advance not only Libyan interests, but also interests within the region. “
Reading more about this remarkable series of events, led by Secretary Rice, I can’t help but think how different the course of history would have been had we used such diplomacy with other nations, rather than pre-emptive warfare. If we’re willing to dance with such a despicable scoundrel as Quaddafi, why not do the same with others?
More to the point in this political season, Secretary Rice’s example of diplomacy seems to support the potential for peaceful negotiation with others, such as Iran, which Barack Obama proposed during the primary campaign — and for which he was resoundingly mocked by members of the other party. Yet, reasonable minds in both parties know that skilful negotiations in peace are far preferable to the nihilistic chest-thumping war-whooping tactics that have destroyed so many lives without achieving any real peace.
Peace is neither red nor blue, Democratic nor Republican, liberal nor conservative. Peace is a profound human need, and essential to achieve the genuine freedom we say we cherish. Peaceful solutions are not weak; indeed, the most peaceful approach to resolving international conflict may be the best way to guarantee national security and freedom. Reaching such solutions sometimes means dancing with the devil, yes; but as the character Sir Thomas More pithily retored to his son-in-law Richard Roper in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, “I’d give the devil the benefit of the law for my own safety’s sake.” That seems an apt summary of Secretary Rice’s excursion to Tripoli.
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