Libya’s agreement to give up its weapons of mass destruction and open itself up to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency is a welcome development. But it is not a product of the Bush doctrine, as the White House and its neoconservative supporters would have us believe. Indeed, it seems apparent that this agreement could have occurred much earlier had the Bush Administration not been so preoccupied with preparing for war on Iraq. As Flynt Leverett, a former member of the Bush Administration’s National Security Council staff, argues, “Within months after September 11, we had the Libyans, the Syrians and the Iranians all coming to us saying, What can we do [to better relations]? We didn’t really engage any of them because we decided to do Iraq. We really squandered two years of capital that will make it harder to apply this model to the hard cases like Iran and Syria.”
In fact, the rehabilitation of Libya and, for that matter, Syria and Iran, is the culmination of a ten-year process of international diplomacy involving engagement and sanctions. The brunt of that diplomatic effort was earlier borne by our European allies, who worried that the US effort to intimidate and isolate Libya would be counterproductive. After all, the earlier American use of force against Muammar el-Qaddafi in 1986 for Libya’s alleged role in the Berlin disco bombing had only led to Libya’s retaliation with the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Thus, throughout the past decade our European partners openly defied the Clinton and Bush administrations’ efforts to isolate Libya and worked hard to bring about a United Nations-negotiated settlement of the Lockerbie case.
It is, of course, difficult to divine Qaddafi’s exact reasons for opening up his country to inspections at this time. But he has long made clear his desire to renounce support for terrorism and to re-enter the international mainstream. It’s no secret that Libya’s oil and gas industry needs more international investment and that Qaddafi wants to further expand his business and trading relations not just with Europe but with the United States.
In any case, Libya was not an immediate target of the Bush Administration, and it was not possible that Washington would have attacked Libya against the express wishes of its three closest European allies–Britain, Italy and Spain–all of which had carried on diplomatic and trade relations with Tripoli against Washington’s wishes. Qaddafi undoubtedly knew all this, and worked hard to open Libya up to British and other European efforts to arrange discussions with Washington.
Thus, the Libyan case seems to be more a vindication of multilateral diplomacy and the United Nations than of the Bush doctrine. In retrospect, it is clear that the UN inspections regime succeeded in disarming Iraq and that European engagement prepared the way for Iranian and now Libyan acceptance of international inspections. Yes, there is a new paradigm emerging for reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but it has little to do with the Bush doctrine. Even the Bush Administration seems to have begun to recognize the virtues of diplomacy and international engagement, even as it still tries to neocon us into believing that it is all due to its misguided war on Iraq.