Jacob Heilbrunn

Coddling Colonel Khadafi?

Libya is a failed state whose oil wealth has provided its leader, Colonel Khadafi, with a layer of immunity for decades. America and Great Britain both have coddled the Libyan dictator in recent years--almost as much as the Ukrainian nurse that he has apparently been traipsing about with in Libya and elsewhere. The deal that the Bush administration sealed with Khadaffi, much trumpeted as a successful act of promoting nuclear nonproliferation, has some critics wondering whether Washington should have pursued a harsher policy.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Elliot Abrams observes that the Bush administration made the right choice. Had the administration chosen not to cut a deal with Libya, it might now possess nuclear weapons:


Seen from this bloody February of 2011, the agreement with Libya was
still the right policy. Gadhafi in his bunker with control over
missiles, chemical weapons and a rudimentary nuclear program is a
terrifying thought. So is a Libya after regime collapse with those
materials available to the highest bidder.

It could be argued that LIbya would never have developed nuclear weapons. Had America maintained more pressure on LIbya, it might have fallen sooner. But this is dubious. Abrams essentially makes the case that a form of constructive engagement was the best policy.

Elsewhere on this website, Paul Pillar notes that the LIbyan case, if I understand him correctly, shows that it's too simplistic to argue for complete isolation or engagement. He's right.

But the decision to engage is usually the right one. The example of Nazi Germany is one where engagement was futile. But when it came to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, the detente that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger promoted was an essential ingredient in the ultimate collapse of communism.

There is no cause for shame in the approach that America pursued toward Libya. Now that Libyans have taken matters in their own hands, America and Europe need to offer what assistance they can. But it is up to Libyans themselves to try and construct a new country out of the wasteland left behind by Khadaffi and his clan.