For all the braying by the Senate’s top three hawks about how the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to oust Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi from power, one might be surprised to learn that exactly two years ago, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were in Tripoli meeting with the erratic leader and giving him assurances that relations between the nations were on the mend.
According to a leaked August 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks recounting the Senators’ junket, the neoconservative Connecticut Senator captured the dynamic of aligning with a brutal dictator:
Lieberman called Libya an important ally in the war on terrorism, noting that common enemies sometimes make better friends.
Qaddafi’s history as a top enemy of the U.S. stretched back decades, but his change of heart came quickly after the U.S. invaded Iraq under the pretense of Saddam Hussein’s development of weapons of mass destruction. Hawks seized on Libya’s détente with the West as a sign that Bush’s tough actions in Iraq were having a ripple effect, though patently not, as Iraq War boosters had predicted, with regard to democratic reforms. “We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qaddafi,” said Lieberman, according to the leaked cable.
The three Senate hawks discussed in detail the Qaddafi regime’s security needs with Libyas National Security Adviser, Qaddafi’s son Muatassim. According to the cable:
5.(C) Senator McCain assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its [a Libyan security program]. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C130s [a transport plane] and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He encouraged Muatassim to keep in mind the long-term perspective of bilateral security engagement and to remember that small obstacles will emerge from time to time that can be overcome.
At another point, McCain and Graham reiterated pledges to push to fulfill the Qaddafi regime requests at the Pentagon and on the Hill:
Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates.
But 18 months later, Qaddafi reacted to mass protests by mobilizing his military, bringing down international condemnation and, in just a few short weeks, a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force. The U.S. and it’s allies in NATO and elsewhere rained down bombs to hold Qaddafi’s forces at bay as rebels organized a coherent opposition council. As the rebels went on the offensive, Western and allied bombers lent them air support with surveillance and tactical bombings.
When suddenly — as if Qaddafi’s repression had emerged from out of the blue — McCain and his clique returned to their perches as the staunchest advocates of U.S. military action in Liyba, taking to the airwaves to lament the U.S.’s mere three-week delay to build international consensus and calling for arming the Libyan rebels.
Just as the political winds around Qaddafi seemed to determine the senators’ stand — for him when it was convenient as a win for the Bush administration, and against him when the uprising began and in the month it took to rally the Security Council — McCain and Graham took a curious political shot at Obama just as Qaddafi’s regime crumbled. In a statement, they thanked everyone but the U.S. Starting with the Libyans themselves, they went on to
also commend our British, French, and other allies, as well as our Arab partners, especially Qatar and the UAE, for their leadership in this conflict. Americans can be proud of the role our country has played in helping to defeat Qaddafi, but we regret that this success was so long in coming due to the failure of the United States to employ the full weight of our airpower.
One wonders if August 2009 was too soon to press Qaddafi on the well-being of his people: there’s no hint of democratic reforms, or indeed the Libyan people, in the WikiLeaks cable.