As President Bush attempted to show a united front with three European allies Sunday, an arm of his own administration was working to undermine one of his top goals: bringing freedom to the Middle East. On Friday, contents of a State Department report blasting the president’s push for democracy in the region was leaked to the Los Angeles Times. But what wasn’t reported by the Times is that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy by State. Witness State’s near-completed mission to relegitimize Muammar Qaddafi.
In a classified report titled “Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes,” the State Department boldly declares that democracy will not spread in the Middle East following the fall of Saddam, if democracy even takes root in Iraq. Essentially arguing that the Arab and Muslim populations are not fit for self-rule, State’s report claims that “[e]lectoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements.” Many in the administration are livid. “It’s incredibly racist and paternalistic for these Arabists to say that people in the Middle East will reject freedom,” complains a State Department official.
Rather than a conclusion reached based on new or emerging evidence, the document reflects the long-held views of State. And so far, the State Department seems to be right. But that has happened because State makes it so, by shunning freedom movements and propping up despots. Its predictions about the daunting challenges democracy faces in Iraq have some merit, for example, because State has spent years undermining the Iraqi National Congress, the umbrella organization of Iraqi opposition groups, including by withholding funds from the INC and attempting to shut some of its key players out of post-Iraq planning. And now the State Department is reviving Tripoli’s tyrant.
At a meeting with the families of the victims of the Pam Am 103 bombing last week, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns indicated that there would be no more meetings with Libyan officials — there have been several since early last year — and that the United Nations sanctions related to Pam Am 103 could be dropped in a matter of weeks. A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, made clear that this process was going to happen regardless of what the families want.
The dictator’s minions couldn’t be happier. Late last week, the Libyan ambassador to London, who represented his government in the series of talks, told the Associated Press that Libya would accept “responsibility” for the bombing — though it is not at all clear what that means. Burns told the families that the Libyan statement would remain sealed until it goes before the U.N. Security Council, shielding the State Department from criticism in the interim.
Once the U.N. sanctions are repealed — a symbolic action since they already have been suspended for several years — the U.S. sanctions could be next. State Department officials, who have long sought the elimination of sanctions against Libya, are planning an all-out assault to do away with U.S. sanctions as well. If successful, it will mark the completion of Qaddafi’s quest for legitimacy.
Qaddafi wants to reemerge as a normalized leader in large part because his son may take the reins in the next few years, according to a senior administration official. His son will be able to take control not just of the throne, but also weapons of mass destruction — which is not a surprise to State. Burns acknowledged to the families that Qaddafi still has WMDs, which State considers a matter of “concern.” What Burns didn’t tell the families, though, is that Qaddafi is still funding terrorists, including paying “ransoms” to al Qaeda affiliates.
Though Libya is not a country that would easily embrace democracy, State’s actions to relegitimize Qaddafi will make freedom there an impossible goal. And if State acts in a similar manner in other Middle Eastern nations, State’s predictions that democracy won’t take root in the region will indeed become a reality.
— Joel Mowbray is an NRO contributor and a Townhall.com columnist.