‘The relationship has been moving in a good direction for a number of years now, and I think tonight does mark a new phase,” said Condoleezza Rice. President Bush’s secretary of state was taking time out from inventing the 70 percent of Palestinians who just want to live side-by-side in peace with the Zionist entity in order to reinvent Moammar Qaddafi.
It was September 2008, and the Freedom Agenda was in full swing, with a few hiccups: Hamas taking over Gaza, Hezbollah strangling what passed for the government of Lebanon, al-Qaeda reassembling in Pakistan, the Taliban resurging in Afghanistan, and, in Iraq, the usual: Shiites killing Sunnis, Sunnis killing Shiites, and everyone killing Americans when they weren’t busy chasing any remaining non-Muslims out of the country. What better time to see Colonel Qaddafi, heretofore a barbaric mass-murderer, as the proverbial leopard who’d changed his spots?
In reality, it had been the swift military rout of Saddam Hussein that induced Qaddafi to renounce (or claim to renounce) his ambition to develop weapons of mass destruction in late 2003. But once the hard-power promise of the Bush Doctrine gave way to the belief that thugs could be democratized into submission, the wily old terrorist found a system he could game. And game it he did.
I didn’t buy the remaking of Qaddafi then, and I don’t buy the remaking of Libya now. That puts me among a breed that, if news accounts are to be believed, is increasingly rare: I don’t care about the Libyan people — I’m sorry, I mean the “brave Libyan freedom fighters.”
Yes, yes, I know: We are not supposed to look at Libyans now as they appeared the last time we took notice: a cheering throng greeting Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie terrorist, whom the Obama administration was cajoled into ignoring when the Brits orchestrated his release from jail to appease our spot-shorn leopard. Nor are we supposed to register that Qaddafi’s main opponents in this 97 percent Muslim country are Islamists who have about as much use for us as they do for Colonel Crazy. No, this is to be the desperately wished-for Arab awakening, so we are to take the Libyans as noble secularists who just want to throw off the yoke of tyranny and establish democracy (and never you mind the sharia).
Eager to get with the program, newspapers, blogs, and television reports tell us that Qaddafi has been America’s incorrigible enemy for 30 years. The problem is, if your memory actually goes back more than ten minutes, you may recall that the same media outlets only recently pronounced Qaddafi downright corrigible.
And why not? After all, that was how the State Department saw it. As if history had never really happened, we agreed to let the strongman receive an ebullient Secretary Rice (“my darling black African woman,” as Qaddafi called her) in the very Bab al-Azizia compound that President Reagan had ordered bombed in retaliation for Libya’s 1986 terrorist attack on a Berlin disco. Qaddafi had targeted American servicemen and managed to kill two of them while maiming hundreds of other victims.
Had Qaddafi really changed in the ensuing 22 years? He arrived at the 2008 love fest arrayed in one of his lunatic costumes. The room, a smitten Associated Press reported, was “redolent of incense.” The dictator couldn’t gush enough over “Leezza,” being especially “proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders,” as he had told al-Jazeera in a 2007 interview.
That is, nothing had changed. Qaddafi was the same old “mad dog of the Middle East,” the title President Reagan aptly bestowed on him in 1986 — even before the strongman ordered the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103, murdering 259 people onboard (including 189 Americans) and killing eleven more when the wreckage landed on the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. In 2008, just as in 1988, Qaddafi was the same dyed-in-the-wool terrorist he is today, the kind with whom the Bush administration occasionally professed to know you don’t negotiate. The kind you regard as an enemy, not a rehabilitation project.