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Iraq and Libya

If there is one fact proven again and again in the Middle East, it is that what happens in one country affects other countries as well. Back in 2003, for example, when U.S. forces had just taken down the Baathist regime in Iraq and pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was eager to deal away his weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism in order to avoid a similar fate. ~Max Boot

If there is one falsehood repeated again and again about “the Middle East,” it is that invading Iraq prompted Gaddafi to make this deal. Paul Pillar set the record straight a few months ago:

The particular mistake among Krauthammer’s assertions I feel especially moved to correct—because I was personally involved in the relevant diplomacy—is that “Qadhafi was so terrified by what we did to Saddam & Sons that he plea-bargained away his weapons of mass destruction.” In fact, the Libyan ruler’s dramatic turnabout, in which he gave up his involvement in international terrorism and instead became a counterterrorist partner of the West, as well as giving up his unconventional weapons programs, had begun years earlier. Qadhafi was responding to the pressure and ostracism of multilateral sanctions and to the prospect of an improved international standing if he came clean about the bombing of Pan Am 103 and was willing to deal seriously with the United States on the issues of most concern to the United States. The secret negotiations that confirmed and codified all this were begun in 1999, under the Clinton Administration. It was the willingness of the United States to engage Qadhafi’s regime that made this all possible, not some prospect that military force would be used to remove him—let alone, as with the ouster of Saddam, that force would be used to oust him no matter how he tried to adjust his policies.

It isn’t surprising that hawks who despise diplomatic engagement would want to credit the Iraq war for Gaddafi’s decision to abandon unconventional weapons and terrorism, not least since war advocates’ claims about Iraqi WMDs and links to Al Qaeda were bogus, but it is completely untrue. Ending Libya’s international isolation in exchange for Gaddafi’s concessions achieved far more for counter-terrorism and non-proliferation than the Iraq war, and it did so at little or no cost to the U.S. and our European allies. It was one of the few genuine foreign policy successes of the Bush administration, and it was remarkable for being so unlike Bush administration policy toward other authoritarian pariah states.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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