John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham are the Senate’s most energetic proponents of sinking the nation ever deeper into the Libyan morass. In a joint interview on Fox last weekend, Senators McCain (R., Ariz.) and Lieberman (I., Conn.) were breathless in their rendering of the “freedom fighters” and the “Arab Spring” of spontaneous “democracy.” Friday they upped the ante with a Wall Street Journal op-ed, rehearsing yet again what an incorrigible thug Qaddafi is and how “we cannot allow [him] to consolidate his grip” on parts of Libya that he still controls.
For his part, Senator Graham (R., S.C.) told CNN Wednesday that he would like President Obama to designate Qaddafi an “unlawful enemy combatant” with an eye toward legitimizing the strongman’s assassination. He and Wolf Blitzer discussed whether the hit could be pulled off by the covert intelligence operatives President Obama has inserted in Libya. The next day, in his plaintive questioning of Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a Senate hearing, Senator Graham wondered why American air power could not just “drop a bomb on him, to end this thing.”
As a matter of law, Graham’s proposal is ludicrous — no small thanks to federal law that Graham himself helped write, about which more in an upcoming column. What was especially striking about the hearing was the tone of righteous indignation Senators Graham and McCain took in whipping the Obama administration over government blundering.
But what about their own blundering? The senators most strident about the purported need to oust Qaddafi, to crush his armed forces, and to kill him if that’s what it takes to empower the rebels, are the very senators who helped fortify Qaddafi’s military and tighten the despotic grip of which they now despair.
It was only a short time ago, in mid-August 2009, that Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Graham, along with another transnational progressive moderate, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), paid a visit to Qaddafi’s Tripoli compound. If they seem to have amnesia about it now, perhaps that’s because the main item on the agenda was their support for the Obama administration’s offer of military aid to the same thug the senators now want gone yesterday.
A government cable (leaked by Wikileaks) memorializes the excruciating details of meetings between the Senate delegation and Qaddafi, along with his son Mutassim, Libya’s “national security adviser.” We find McCain and Graham promising to use their influence to push along Libya’s requests for C-130 military aircraft, among other armaments, and civilian nuclear assistance. And there’s Lieberman gushing, “We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi.” That’s before he opined that Libya had become “an important ally in the war on terrorism,” and that “common enemies sometimes make better friends.”
On and on it goes, made all the more nauseating by the reality that nobody was under any illusion that Qaddafi had truly reformed. McCain made a point of telling the press that “the status of human rights and political reform in Libya will remain a chief element of concern.” Note the gentle diplomatic understatement: Qaddafi is — and was, as McCain well knew — a savage autocrat. Yet this brute fact was softened into “an element of concern” regarding “the status of human rights and political reform.” Pretty sharp contrast from the senator’s sardonic grilling of the U.S. defense secretary on Thursday. The McCain who was face-to-face with Qaddafi was very different from the McCain who today rails about Qaddafi. Back in the tent, none of his concern would dampen the cozy mood. The Arizonan swooned over “the many ways in which the United States and Libya can work together as partners.”