Jonah and Mark went back and forth over the weekend on the question of whether Qaddafi has been right in saying that the “‘rebels’ are al Qaeda.” In particular, Jonah pointed to the reports about the “rebel” commander Abdul Hakim al-Hasadi (alternatively referred to as al-Hasidi), a member of the Qaeda-connected Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIGF) who was detained by the U.S. for several years after his capture in 2002. (I discussed al-Hasadi in my weekend column.)
I’d suggest that the real issue here is not whether Qaddafi was right, it’s that our government knew he was right . . . unless you think they were lying to us throughout the Bush years. Here, for example, is Secretary of State Condi Rice in 2006, explaining the Bush administration’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Qaddafi:
We are taking these actions in recognition of Libya’s continued commitment to its renunciation of terrorism and the excellent cooperation Libya has provided to the United States and other members of the international community in response to common global threats faced by the civilized world since September 11, 2001.
The cooperation she to which she was referring primarily involved intelligence about al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists (like the LIGF) in Libya. It was important because, as the Defense Department found, more Libyans (the kind of Libyans who are to be found among the “rebels”) traveled to fight against U.S. forces in the war on terror than the citizens of any other country by percentage of population.
By the time of Condi’s gushing 2006 tribute to Qaddafi’s cooperation, this provision of intelligence had been ongoing for three years. (And it didn’t just involve us — the report I cite above says, “Libya began working last year [i.e., 2005] with Britain to curtail terrorism by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and had extradited a suspect in a Cairo bombing to Egypt.”) The sharing of intelligence against Libyan jihadists also explains, in part, the Bush administration decision to take Qaddafi off the list of state sponsors of terrorism at that point — he was deemed to be an ally against jihadist terror, notwithstanding his blood-soaked history as an anti-American terrorist. It further explains why congressional Democrats like the late Tom Lantos strongly supported the Bush administration’s cozying up to Qaddafi (Lantos in 2006: “Libya has thoroughly altered its behavior by abolishing its program to develop weapons of mass destruction and ending its support for terrorism.”)
The cooperation continued apace, according to our government. That’s why, with great fanfare in 2008, the Bush administration formally settled past hostilities with Libya. At her meeting with Qaddafi that year, Secretary Rice again stressed the dictator’s cooperation against terrorists. She affirmed that “the relationship has been moving in a good direction for a number of years now and I think tonight does mark a new phase.” The important thing, Rice insisted, was “moving forward. The United States, I’ve said many times, doesn’t have any permanent enemies.”
Need more? In 2008, when the Bush State Department proposed to start pouring foreign aid into Libya, State’s justification to Congress asserted that Libya “has changed course from a country fomenting international terrorism to an increasingly valuable partner against terrorism[.]” Aid to Libya was, of course, approved by Congress — without apparent objection from the many senators and House members now describing Qaddafi as a longtime, incorrigible terrorist enemy of the United States.
Our government knew all along that Qaddafi was a thug. A determination was made, however, to overlook his past atrocities for what was said to be the greater good of his abandonment of his weapons programs and his cooperation against the anti-American jihadists we well knew were in his country and the wider rough neighborhood.
We can continue pretending that these jihadists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other anti-American Islamists are not a significant part of the Libyan mujahideen that commentators keep calling the “rebels” and the “freedom fighters.” Similarly, we can keep pretending it’s an “Arab Spring” of “democratic revolution” in neighboring Egypt … and never you mind those “virginity tests” or that election they just had in which nearly three-quarters of Egyptians voted for a process that will shift control of the country and the writing of its next constitution to the Muslim Brotherhood. But pretending won’t change who the “rebels” really are and what this “Arab Spring” is really about.