AG and Kingdaddy have both commented on this article on Libya by Dafna Hochman. Hochman demolishes the argument that the invasion of Iraq had any effect on Libya’s decision to end its nuclear weapon program. It’s well worth reading.
In the 1980s, Qaddafi occupied the narrative space that Saddam Hussein assumed in the 1990s and Fidel Castro held in the 1960s. Qaddafi did a bunch of genuinely bad things. He adopted the Soviet Union as a patron, and just about every terrorist organization under the sun as clients. Terrorists operating with Libyan assistance, training, and perhaps under Libyan orders carried out a number of high profile and deadly attacks against Western targets. Libya invaded neighboring Chad, an operation that ended in a humiliating defeat at the hands of poorly equipped Chadian militias. Libya also had several military encounters with the United States, including a fighter scrum in the Gulf of Sidra and a series of air attacks intended to decapitate Qaddafi’s regime.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union things went poorly for Libya, and Qaddafi decided to move back toward the West. Libya toned down the terrorism angle, eventually handing over those responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing. Libya rebuilt its relations with the rest of Africa, eventually achieiving a prominent position in African diplomatic circles. Finally, as early as 1999, Libya offered to shut down its WMD program, including the nuclear program. It gave up the last of its program in late 2003.
Conservatives were quick to declare Libya’s decision to give up its nuclear program as evidence that the Iraq invasion had had its intended effect of intimidating US enemies. If you had been paying no attention, this make sense. To anyone who followed Libyan foreign policy during the 1990s and early 2000s (an admittedly small number), the argument was absurd. Libya began moving toward the West well before the United States attacked Iraq or even began to seriously threaten moving against it. Moreover, the Libyan decision was made in the absence of any plausible military threat on the part of the West. While US rhetoric toward North Korea and Iran has been characterized by bluster and a strategy of “keeping all options on the table”, no one has talked about using military force against Libya since the early 1990s. It would be curious indeed if the invasion of Iraq frightened Libya, against which no threats were made, into giving up its WMD while apparently pushing Iran and North Korea, the target of very serious threats, in precisely the opposite direction. In this case, however, there’s no puzzle. The invasion of Iraq had no effect on Libya’s decision, which was made before 9/11.
Given the logical weaknesses of the reputational argument, it’s not surprising that no easy line can be drawn between Iraq and Libya. The Libyan example is also instructive regarding another right-wing fantasy, that of Iraq’s connection with terrorist groups. Stephen Hayes is making a career out of producing fantastic descriptions of Iraq’s connections with Al Qaeda, mostly based on a few documents that suggest some contacts in the mid-1990s. Let me suggest that if we had access to Libya’s intelligence archives we’d find a web of connections that would make Hayes most fevered dreams look like child’s play. Even in the 1990s, and certainly in the 1980s, Libya was a far more enthusiastic supporter of terrorism than Iraq. The same could be said of Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Hayes doesn’t grapple with this because his purpose is not to study Iraq in a comparative context, a project that might determine Iraq’s connections to terrorism relative to its neighbors. This is the only useful way to study Iraq’s terror connections, as the invasion of Iraq can only be justified on terrorism grounds if Iraq was a relatively aggressive sponsor of terrorism. Hayes has done nothing to establish this, and with good reason; it’s preposterous. Relative to Iran, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia (at least with regards to Al Qaeda) Iraq was a dabbler in terror. Hayes doesn’t deny this, and doens’t grapple with it, because his point is post hoc rationalization rather than serious journalism.