Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tripoli

NATO Going Cold Turkey

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

More evidence that NATO is in trouble has come alive as the alliance prepares for its summit this weekend. As reported in several news sources, Turkey has gotten its way, and NATO officialdom will make no mention of Iran as a missile threat so as not to complicate things for NATO’s only Islamist member. The whole thing is, of course, a farce. NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who, as Danish prime minister during the cartoon affair, has already had a flavor of Turkish tolerance), has confirmed that NATO’s new strategic concept, due to be released at the summit, will not name Iran as a particular threat. Pressed by journalists, NATO spokesman James Appathurai was quoted as saying that “[t]here are at least 30 countries, more than 30 countries, acquiring, that have or are acquiring ballistic missile capability,” he replied. “So this is not just about one country. It’s about a growing and, in essence, generic potential threat to our territory.”

Now, we will not argue with the fact that NATO’s readiness to embrace missile defense may be more than just about Iran — after all, Syria and Libya have missiles (Libya actually shot missiles once at a NATO ally — Italy — in 1986, in lame retaliation for the U.S. raid over Tripoli). If Pakistan ever fell into the wrong hands, there would be even more reason to worry. And North Korea may one day have ICBMs to threaten NATO countries (it already threatens NATO allies and partners).

But why not point out Iran, given that Libya has renounced its nuclear program and Syria is an Iran proxy whose nuclear program benefited from Iranian and North Korean support? And the 30-country myth is especially silly — as it includes countries too far away to threaten NATO countries, friendly countries, NATO members, countries with obsolete missile programs, and then, well, and then Iran.

If missile defense is to be an essential component of NATO’s new doctrine of nuclear deterrence in a world populated in the future by rogue states with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, then it would be desirable to recall that another essential element of any deterrence doctrine is some kind of declaratory policy. If all we get from NATO is denial for Turkey’s appeasement’s sake, the credibility of NATO’s deterrence is harmed.

Which all comes down to a simple matter — why is Turkey still a member of the alliance?

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Libya Lets Loose al-Qaeda

Libya just released 214 al-Qaeda members from Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. Seif al Islam, son of President Moammar Qaddafi, says hundreds more will be turned out soon, which will bring the number of freed Libyan terrorists up to almost 1,000.

American and Israeli officials used to pressure Yasir Arafat into rounding up terrorists when he was Palestinian Authority president. He’d scoop up a couple of handfuls, announce the arrests to foreign journalists, then quietly let most of them go a few weeks or months later. Al-Qaeda, though, is much more dangerous than Arafat’s old PLO. Qaddafi has as much incentive as everyone else in the Middle East and North Africa to do something about them. That does not, however, mean he is actually being responsible.

Reason magazine’s Michael Moynihan offers us a few clues as to what’s happening. Last month he wrote the best dispatch from Libya I’ve read in years — the first in some time that describes the same viciously oppressive country I visited in 2004 — after he was invited there on a press junket by the Qaddafi Foundation. (Note to totalitarian despots: in the future, you shouldn’t expect glowing press coverage from libertarian magazines.)

One of the first items on his itinerary was a meeting with several low-level al-Qaeda operatives whom Qaddafi had supposedly “reformed.” They took the required re-education classes and put their signature to a renunciation of violence. One even insisted that he had converted to Qaddafism, a sinister joke of an ideology that’s almost impossible to sincerely adhere to.

The government and its supposedly reformed citizens insist that the “Corrective Studies” program is 100 percent effective. Either Qaddafi is a genius who can save the world with this system, or something else is going on here. It wasn’t hard for Moynihan to figure out what. Everyone enrolled in the coursework had been sentenced to death but would be set free if they cooperated and passed.

Qaddafi is surely trying to earn points for himself in the West by “rehabilitating” these prisoners. Otherwise, why invite foreign journalists into the country to meet with them in the first place? Even so, he really does need them to behave themselves, at least while they are in Libya. His quasi-Marxist regime is an obvious target for revolutionary Islamists. Al-Qaeda is a threat to every government in the region. At the same time, it’s potentially useful for certain governments because it can threaten any and all of them.

Look at Syria’s Baath party state. As it is avowedly secular and headed by non-Muslim Alawites, there is naturally a great deal of tension between the Sunni majority and the authorities. The government killed tens of thousands fighting a Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in the early 1980s, when Hafez Assad was in charge. Every day his son Bashar worries about threats to his own rule from that same community.

The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 provided him with an ideal solution. He didn’t need to arrest or repress Syria’s radical Sunnis. All he had to do was turn them loose in Iraq, where they’d go after Americans and Shia “apostates.” He could even help Sunni extremists from elsewhere in the region transit into Iraq, thereby earning a small measure of gratitude from those who would otherwise rather kill him.

Libya, like Syria, is no longer ruled by one of the region’s “conservative” monarchies. Both are revolutionary regimes founded by leaders who came to power with ambitions beyond their own borders. Both are well-practiced in the art of using terrorism abroad as instruments of their foreign policies. Qaddafi formally renounced the practice to get back onto speaking terms with the West, but he and Assad together encouraged Palestinians to resume violent attacks against Israel just a few days ago. He hasn’t changed as much as he’d like us to think.

There is no good reason to assume he won’t unleash his “reformed” al-Qaedists outside the country. Some of them have already engaged in overseas operations. They’re experienced. Unless he’s in serious denial about his rehab program’s effectiveness, he’ll need to get them out of the country now that he’s freed them from prison. And he can always later tell us he tried to reform them if he gets caught. He already arranged the press coverage to make sure we know all about it.

I could be wrong. Lord knows it’s hard to figure out what goes on in his mind. The man is quite frankly bonkers. Even if he doesn’t intend to sic any of these people on his enemies, we shouldn’t be one bit surprised if they later resurface in distant places where a death sentence in Libya isn’t enforceable.

Libya just released 214 al-Qaeda members from Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. Seif al Islam, son of President Moammar Qaddafi, says hundreds more will be turned out soon, which will bring the number of freed Libyan terrorists up to almost 1,000.

American and Israeli officials used to pressure Yasir Arafat into rounding up terrorists when he was Palestinian Authority president. He’d scoop up a couple of handfuls, announce the arrests to foreign journalists, then quietly let most of them go a few weeks or months later. Al-Qaeda, though, is much more dangerous than Arafat’s old PLO. Qaddafi has as much incentive as everyone else in the Middle East and North Africa to do something about them. That does not, however, mean he is actually being responsible.

Reason magazine’s Michael Moynihan offers us a few clues as to what’s happening. Last month he wrote the best dispatch from Libya I’ve read in years — the first in some time that describes the same viciously oppressive country I visited in 2004 — after he was invited there on a press junket by the Qaddafi Foundation. (Note to totalitarian despots: in the future, you shouldn’t expect glowing press coverage from libertarian magazines.)

One of the first items on his itinerary was a meeting with several low-level al-Qaeda operatives whom Qaddafi had supposedly “reformed.” They took the required re-education classes and put their signature to a renunciation of violence. One even insisted that he had converted to Qaddafism, a sinister joke of an ideology that’s almost impossible to sincerely adhere to.

The government and its supposedly reformed citizens insist that the “Corrective Studies” program is 100 percent effective. Either Qaddafi is a genius who can save the world with this system, or something else is going on here. It wasn’t hard for Moynihan to figure out what. Everyone enrolled in the coursework had been sentenced to death but would be set free if they cooperated and passed.

Qaddafi is surely trying to earn points for himself in the West by “rehabilitating” these prisoners. Otherwise, why invite foreign journalists into the country to meet with them in the first place? Even so, he really does need them to behave themselves, at least while they are in Libya. His quasi-Marxist regime is an obvious target for revolutionary Islamists. Al-Qaeda is a threat to every government in the region. At the same time, it’s potentially useful for certain governments because it can threaten any and all of them.

Look at Syria’s Baath party state. As it is avowedly secular and headed by non-Muslim Alawites, there is naturally a great deal of tension between the Sunni majority and the authorities. The government killed tens of thousands fighting a Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in the early 1980s, when Hafez Assad was in charge. Every day his son Bashar worries about threats to his own rule from that same community.

The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 provided him with an ideal solution. He didn’t need to arrest or repress Syria’s radical Sunnis. All he had to do was turn them loose in Iraq, where they’d go after Americans and Shia “apostates.” He could even help Sunni extremists from elsewhere in the region transit into Iraq, thereby earning a small measure of gratitude from those who would otherwise rather kill him.

Libya, like Syria, is no longer ruled by one of the region’s “conservative” monarchies. Both are revolutionary regimes founded by leaders who came to power with ambitions beyond their own borders. Both are well-practiced in the art of using terrorism abroad as instruments of their foreign policies. Qaddafi formally renounced the practice to get back onto speaking terms with the West, but he and Assad together encouraged Palestinians to resume violent attacks against Israel just a few days ago. He hasn’t changed as much as he’d like us to think.

There is no good reason to assume he won’t unleash his “reformed” al-Qaedists outside the country. Some of them have already engaged in overseas operations. They’re experienced. Unless he’s in serious denial about his rehab program’s effectiveness, he’ll need to get them out of the country now that he’s freed them from prison. And he can always later tell us he tried to reform them if he gets caught. He already arranged the press coverage to make sure we know all about it.

I could be wrong. Lord knows it’s hard to figure out what goes on in his mind. The man is quite frankly bonkers. Even if he doesn’t intend to sic any of these people on his enemies, we shouldn’t be one bit surprised if they later resurface in distant places where a death sentence in Libya isn’t enforceable.

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NIAC’s PR Offensive

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.” Read More

As the NIAC and Trita Parsi story unfolds in the wake of Eli Lake’s bombshell story, it is interesting to note just how it might be that many on the Left are simultaneously reaching the same conclusions (e.g., it’s all a neocon conspiracy, Parsi is besieged by an MEK agent).

On Parsi and NIAC’s side is Brown Lloyd James, a PR firm with much experience in this area. The firm’s website tells us: “Brown Lloyd James handled the international launch of Al Jazeera English.” And we also know from news reports that “Brown Lloyd James, a public relations firm with offices in London and New York, has opened an office in Tripoli. It is reported to have placed articles by Colonel Gadaffi in American newspapers.” So they have the best of the best when it comes to representing these sorts of clients.

It should come as no surprise then that even before the Washington Times story was released, NIAC was laying the groundwork to scream foul. Back on November 3, Parsi sent out a fundraising letter, which tipped the hand on the upcoming defense and those who would be telling a sympathetic tale:

Dear NIAC Friend,

When we launched the Truth out 2010 Campaign two weeks ago, we never expected the overwhelming response we got. Our sincere thanks to all those who responded. Clearly, our many supporters are just as tired of the smear campaign against NIAC as we are.

One thing that those behind the smears seem to have in common is a belief that Iranian Americans shouldn’t have a say in America’s approach to Iran simply because they are Iranian Americans. Not only is this ridiculous and offensive, it has a racist undertone with innuendos of dual loyalty.

See for instance what ultra-conservative Martin Kramer said at an AIPAC conference in 2009. Kramer argued that Iranian Americans tend to still have family in Iran and are therefore easily intimidated into backing Tehran, saying: “[W]e have to be extremely cautious about what we take away from Iranian Diaspora communities when it comes to understanding Iran. Many of these communities desperately want access to their own country. And it dramatically tilts their analysis toward accommodation.”

There has been a flurry of articles by fair-minded American journalists in the media that defend NIAC, push back and do not allow these smears to go unanswered.  Just today, the Huffington Post published an article uncovering the true motives behind the smears — stating that they “were dishonest at best and defamatory at worst,” and “as NIAC’s voice grew louder in foreign policy circles, so too did the vehemence of its critics.”

Other influential journalists have also rejected the allegations against NIAC:

Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic:

“The implication that [Trita Parsi] is somehow a tool of the regime is unfair, untrue and malicious.”

Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

“Any American reporter who paid any attention to the U.S. debate over the Iranian election quoted Parsi and NIAC, constantly, denouncing Ahmadinejad.”

Matt Yglesias, Think Progress:

“What can be seen, right out in the open and on the record, is that NIAC has consistently criticized human rights abuses by the Iranian government and agitated for liberalization, fair elections, and decent treatment of the population of Iran.”

Daniel Luban, The Faster Times:

“Why, then, is [Parsi] being attacked as a stooge for the Iranian regime? The answer is simple: while Parsi has harshly criticized the regime’s actions, he has joined Iran’s leading opposition figures in opposing the use of sanctions or military force against Iran, on the grounds that they would be likely simply to kill innocent Iranian civilians while strengthening the regime’s hold on power. For the Iran hawks, this is a mortal sin.”

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com calls NIAC’s attackers “neocon character assassins.”

As part of our Truth in 2010 Campaign, we are providing a Facts vs Myths section on our website. It’s a great resource to find out the truth about NIAC’s work. Make sure you study it and tell your friends — nothing is more effective in fighting smear than the truth!

Your loyalty and support is what has gotten our community this far — so, please don’t stop now. Please continue to support NIAC by donating $20.10 or more to the 2010 Campaign — and remember, all your donations are tax-deductible.

But don’t just donate. Make sure you email the Huffington Post article and this email to all your friends. Post it on your Facebook status. Tweet about it. And talk to your friends about the work NIAC is doing!

Momentum is building in our favor, but that doesn’t mean our work is over. We have to continue our offensive in order to meet our commitment to you of dispelling myths and falsehoods by 2010.

As always, thank you for your support. We look forward to sharing more good news with you in the near future!

Sincerely,

Trita Parsi, PhD

Weeks before the story actually broke, the  groundwork for the defense was being laid. And it is interesting that just after the story did break, Andrew Sullivan rushed forward with the very same “dual loyalty” argument. Luban stepped up to smear a Parsi critic as a terrorist. And so it went as some in the Left blogosphere struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same). That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude, and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team

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The Importance of Libya

“Rehabilitating a pariah state is never easy or without distasteful aspects,” writes the New York Times today in an editorial. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, yesterday the Libyans demonstrated once again just how hard it is for democracies to work with hardline regimes, even ones that appear to be on the right track.

On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice met with her Libyan counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, in Washington in the highest level talks between the two countries in 35 years. After the one-hour meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Secretary Rice had asked Libya to improve its human rights, which are “an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship.” Yesterday, however, Tripoli contradicted Washington’s account of the meeting. “There was absolutely no mention of the human rights situation in Libya during the discussions in Washington,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The State Department refused to comment on Tripoli’s denial except to say that there had been no change in McCormack’s version of events.

Why should we care about this disagreement? After all, as diplomatic imbroglios go, this one registers about zero on the Richter scale. Nonetheless, these days almost everything involving Libya is important to us. The North African nation, whether it likes it or not, has offered itself up as a test case for the world. In an era of rapid nuclear proliferation, it gave up its weapons program, and in a decade of global terrorism, it stepped back. So if the West cannot guide this nation toward a more open society, then we will be confirming the strength of an authoritarianism that is sweeping region after region and rolling back the clock. In short, Muammar Qaddafi’s state has become a weathervane at a time when the Western democracies need to show that they—and not the Chinas or the Russias—represent the trend of history. Libya has only six million people, yet they can inspire the two billion others who are not free.

It was clear, even before the flap following Rice’s meeting this week, that Qaddafi is reluctant to moderate his despotic rule. Who can blame the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution” for failing to go forward after pocketing the initial round of benefits for re-engaging the international community? It is up to the West to put even more effort in making sure that he addresses human rights concerns. After all, the liberalization of Libyan society is as important to us as it is to the Libyans. As the Times reminds us, working with repugnant rulers can be unpleasant. In Libya’s case, it is also essential.

“Rehabilitating a pariah state is never easy or without distasteful aspects,” writes the New York Times today in an editorial. I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, yesterday the Libyans demonstrated once again just how hard it is for democracies to work with hardline regimes, even ones that appear to be on the right track.

On Thursday, Condoleezza Rice met with her Libyan counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam, in Washington in the highest level talks between the two countries in 35 years. After the one-hour meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that Secretary Rice had asked Libya to improve its human rights, which are “an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship.” Yesterday, however, Tripoli contradicted Washington’s account of the meeting. “There was absolutely no mention of the human rights situation in Libya during the discussions in Washington,” the Libyan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The State Department refused to comment on Tripoli’s denial except to say that there had been no change in McCormack’s version of events.

Why should we care about this disagreement? After all, as diplomatic imbroglios go, this one registers about zero on the Richter scale. Nonetheless, these days almost everything involving Libya is important to us. The North African nation, whether it likes it or not, has offered itself up as a test case for the world. In an era of rapid nuclear proliferation, it gave up its weapons program, and in a decade of global terrorism, it stepped back. So if the West cannot guide this nation toward a more open society, then we will be confirming the strength of an authoritarianism that is sweeping region after region and rolling back the clock. In short, Muammar Qaddafi’s state has become a weathervane at a time when the Western democracies need to show that they—and not the Chinas or the Russias—represent the trend of history. Libya has only six million people, yet they can inspire the two billion others who are not free.

It was clear, even before the flap following Rice’s meeting this week, that Qaddafi is reluctant to moderate his despotic rule. Who can blame the “Supreme Guide of the Revolution” for failing to go forward after pocketing the initial round of benefits for re-engaging the international community? It is up to the West to put even more effort in making sure that he addresses human rights concerns. After all, the liberalization of Libyan society is as important to us as it is to the Libyans. As the Times reminds us, working with repugnant rulers can be unpleasant. In Libya’s case, it is also essential.

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Libya and Iran

On Thursday, I listed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s welcoming of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Paris as the fourth best handshake of 2007. Qaddafi’s controversial mid-December visit to France—his first in 34 years—marked the first step in the West’s normalization with Libya, a reward for Qaddafi’s promise to end Libya’s nuclear weapons program, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, accept responsibility for airline terrorist attacks that killed 440 people, and compensate the victims’ families. In her year-end press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed these “strategic decisions,” vowing to meet with the Libyan foreign minister in early January 2008 and to visit Tripoli later in the year.

But before Rice cements Libya’s acceptability and enters Qaddafi’s ceremonial Bedouin tent, perhaps she should scrutinize Libya’s strategic decisions more carefully. Last week, Libya announced that it was expanding its cooperation with Iran, with the two states declaring “close attitudes over many issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon.” Iran further expressed its appreciation for “Libya’s logical stances in regard to the country’s nuclear issue and human rights issues,” and announced that it would seek additional partners in Africa and Latin America. That means that Hugo Chavez should expect a phone call in the near future.

For the Bush administration, Libya has long been the epitome of successful foreign policy: a rogue regime that—immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq—destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, and sought respectability. Indeed, little has deterred the administration’s mission-accomplished attitude towards Libya. When a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death earlier this year for infecting 400 children with HIV—the medics confessed under electric-shock torture—the administration never threatened to rethink normalization with Tripoli, simply calling for the medics’ release and applauding the Libyan government when it complied.

If severe human rights concerns were not reason enough to reconsider our rapprochement with Libya, its strategic alignment with Iran must raise some red flags. Normalization with Libya is only valuable when it rewards nuclear disarmament and western alignment, ideally setting an example for similar states to follow. But with Libya now leaning towards Iran, endorsing its nuclear position, and seeking joint ventures in other hemispheres, Rice needs to reassess whether Libya is deserving of its newly elevated status.

On Thursday, I listed French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s welcoming of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi in Paris as the fourth best handshake of 2007. Qaddafi’s controversial mid-December visit to France—his first in 34 years—marked the first step in the West’s normalization with Libya, a reward for Qaddafi’s promise to end Libya’s nuclear weapons program, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, accept responsibility for airline terrorist attacks that killed 440 people, and compensate the victims’ families. In her year-end press conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed these “strategic decisions,” vowing to meet with the Libyan foreign minister in early January 2008 and to visit Tripoli later in the year.

But before Rice cements Libya’s acceptability and enters Qaddafi’s ceremonial Bedouin tent, perhaps she should scrutinize Libya’s strategic decisions more carefully. Last week, Libya announced that it was expanding its cooperation with Iran, with the two states declaring “close attitudes over many issues including Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and Lebanon.” Iran further expressed its appreciation for “Libya’s logical stances in regard to the country’s nuclear issue and human rights issues,” and announced that it would seek additional partners in Africa and Latin America. That means that Hugo Chavez should expect a phone call in the near future.

For the Bush administration, Libya has long been the epitome of successful foreign policy: a rogue regime that—immediately following the U.S. invasion of Iraq—destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, renounced terrorism, and sought respectability. Indeed, little has deterred the administration’s mission-accomplished attitude towards Libya. When a Libyan court sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death earlier this year for infecting 400 children with HIV—the medics confessed under electric-shock torture—the administration never threatened to rethink normalization with Tripoli, simply calling for the medics’ release and applauding the Libyan government when it complied.

If severe human rights concerns were not reason enough to reconsider our rapprochement with Libya, its strategic alignment with Iran must raise some red flags. Normalization with Libya is only valuable when it rewards nuclear disarmament and western alignment, ideally setting an example for similar states to follow. But with Libya now leaning towards Iran, endorsing its nuclear position, and seeking joint ventures in other hemispheres, Rice needs to reassess whether Libya is deserving of its newly elevated status.

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Libya, Newest Security Council Member

Meet the newest members of the United Nations Security Council: Vietnam, Croatia, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, and Libya, all elected yesterday for two-year terms starting next January 1. The United States chose not to fight Tripoli’s bid, which was unopposed. “We have not actively campaigned against them,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey in the beginning of this month. Previously, Washington had engaged in a fifteen-year campaign to keep Colonel Qaddafi’s repugnant regime off the Council.

At one time, that regime was considered an international pariah. Yesterday, 178 of 192 nations in the General Assembly voted for the North African state. As Alejandro Wolff, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, said, “The world obviously does change.”

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Meet the newest members of the United Nations Security Council: Vietnam, Croatia, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, and Libya, all elected yesterday for two-year terms starting next January 1. The United States chose not to fight Tripoli’s bid, which was unopposed. “We have not actively campaigned against them,” said State Department spokesman Tom Casey in the beginning of this month. Previously, Washington had engaged in a fifteen-year campaign to keep Colonel Qaddafi’s repugnant regime off the Council.

At one time, that regime was considered an international pariah. Yesterday, 178 of 192 nations in the General Assembly voted for the North African state. As Alejandro Wolff, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, said, “The world obviously does change.”

But has Libya? The same one-man system still rules the North African state. That tyrant was responsible for the deaths of two Americans in the 1986 bombing of a Berlin nightclub—and for the killing of 270 people from 21 countries over Lockerbie in 1988. “I feel that the U.S. has totally lost its moral compass,” said Susan Cohen, who lost her twenty-year-old daughter in the downing of Pan Am 103.

The outraged mother is right. In reality, the only thing that has changed is Qaddafi’s take on geopolitics. That is a slim reed—the Libyan strongman is, after all, known to be mercurial. Yet, if there is any justification for Washington’s passive stance toward Libya—and this is not much comfort for Ms. Cohen and the other grieving parents, children, spouses, and friends—it is the need to show a path for bad governments to return to the international community.

But which governments will learn from Libya? Iran, unfortunately, is bound to be unimpressed by the rewards offered to Qaddafi for his apparent conversion, because Tehran’s mullahs are much more determined to upset the global order. Perhaps the unpredictable Kim Jong Il will see a lesson in yesterday’s events. Yet, if Washington cannot convince the Korean to do a Qaddafi, America’s acceptance of Libya ultimately will be seen as an act of weakness instead of one of forgiveness.

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“Blowback” in Lebanon?

The State Department has designated Fatah al-Islam, a self-declared al-Qaeda affiliate of Sunni Muslim extremists based in northern Lebanon, a “terrorist” group.

Back in March, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, explained that this outfit, consisting of a relatively small number of fighters but heavily armed, was actually a creature of the United States. In line with a reorientation of U.S. policy to bolster Sunni Muslims in the growing contest with the Shiites of Hizballah and its controlling hands in Iran, the U.S. had covertly joined with Saudi Arabia to support the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam.

Here was Hersh in May amplifying his point on CNN:

Key player are the Saudis, of course, and [Saudi Prince] Bandar. What I was writing about was a sort of a private agreement that was made between the White House, we’re talking about [Vice-President] Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams, who is one of the key aides in the White House, with Bandar. And the idea was to get support, covert support—money, from the Saudis to support various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah.

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The State Department has designated Fatah al-Islam, a self-declared al-Qaeda affiliate of Sunni Muslim extremists based in northern Lebanon, a “terrorist” group.

Back in March, the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, explained that this outfit, consisting of a relatively small number of fighters but heavily armed, was actually a creature of the United States. In line with a reorientation of U.S. policy to bolster Sunni Muslims in the growing contest with the Shiites of Hizballah and its controlling hands in Iran, the U.S. had covertly joined with Saudi Arabia to support the terrorists of Fatah al-Islam.

Here was Hersh in May amplifying his point on CNN:

Key player are the Saudis, of course, and [Saudi Prince] Bandar. What I was writing about was a sort of a private agreement that was made between the White House, we’re talking about [Vice-President] Dick Cheney and Elliott Abrams, who is one of the key aides in the White House, with Bandar. And the idea was to get support, covert support—money, from the Saudis to support various hard-line jihadists, Sunni groups, particularly in Lebanon, who would be seen in case of an actual confrontation with Hezbollah.

If Hersh was right, and that was indeed the U.S. plan, it badly backfired. Fatah al-Islam, holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Tripoli, was then and still is locked in combat with the Lebanese army. “Unintended consequences,” was Hersh’s explanation for the contradiction.

But Hersh is a serial confabulist. In the pages of the New Yorker, he is kept somewhat in accord with reality by the demands of fact-checkers. But off that magazine’s pages, and on the lecture circuit and TV, he feels free to say all sorts of things that do not exist in the here and now but only in the not-here and never.

Hersh thus explained, in the same CNN interview, how in this latest Lebanese case of “blowback” history is repeating itself:

If you remember, you know, we got into the war in Afghanistan with supporting Osama bin Laden, the Mujahadeen back there in the late 1980’s with Bandar, and with people like Elliott Abrams around, the idea being that the Saudis promise us they could control—they could control the jihadists.

Even when Hersh is making things up, he is nothing if not skilled at maintaining an aura of plausibility. Thus, his account of U.S. support for Osama bin Laden in the Afghan war will ring a bell of truth in many minds. But that is only because it is a myth that has been put in circulation for years thanks to people like Hersh himself. It too is false.

I do not trust everything that the former director of the CIA, George Tenet, says. As I have shown here, he is fully capable of prevaricating. But here is Tenet on this point in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm:

Internet-based conspiracy theorists keep alive the rumor that bin Laden had somehow worked for the CIA during the Afghan-Soviet war or had more informal contacts with American officials during that time. Let me state categorically that CIA had no contact with bin Laden during the Soviet’s Afghanistan misadventure.

Denials do not come any more unequivocal than that.

On the one hand, allegations can be generated at will. On the other hand, hard facts, accompanied by documents and proof, are far tougher to produce. Are we are dealing, in the case of Seymour Hersh, with an instance of asymmetrical information warfare?

Hersh’s charges raise another question seldom asked by his fellow national-security journalists in Washington: what are his sources? Or to put a follow-up question in a leading fashion, is Hersh a journalist or a propagandist or, as is becoming increasingly common in the American media, a hybrid of the two?

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Farewell Fatah al-Islam

“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

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“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

Although the U.S. is not involved, the fighting in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group affiliate of al Qaeda, is nonetheless a potentially important testing ground for the Bush doctrine of denying “safe haven to terrorism.”

Parts of Lebanon, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, have become lawless sanctuaries for terrorist groups of global reach. The Iranian-backed Hizballah is the most significant of these. Not only does this Shiite movement retain powerful influence throughout Lebanon, but it is organized to strike abroad and is widely believed to have sleeper cells in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, however, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has never welcomed the terrorists in Lebanon’s midst. Rather, the terrorist presence is a consequence of his country’s chronic weakness, which flows from deep ethnic and religious divisions and continuing Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.

Unwilling and unable to confront Hizballah directly, Siniora has deployed some 15,000 troops in Lebanon’s south, where the Shiite militia had enjoyed unlimited freedom of action until it provoked last summer’s war with Israel.

If Siniora successfully manages to extinguish Fatah al-Islam and the threat it represents to Lebanon, perhaps he will be emboldened to check more resolutely and ultimately disarm the Iranian-backed Hizballah. Movement in that direction could certainly be counted as a critical interest of the United States. We should be bending every diplomatic and military effort to help him accomplish it.

“We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest,” said President Bush on September 20, 2001. Time is running out on his administration. Let’s hope he keeps his word.

 

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