So You’re A Dictator Who Wants to Remain in Power…

Besides the fact that the current regime in Libya is not a threat to U.S. national security, the role of the U.S. military ought not be engaged in strictly humanitarian missions, will likely lead to future humanitarian interventions, and can in no way be argued that such actions in Libya are somehow part of a greater “war on terror,” why else is military intervention in yet another Middle Eastern country a terrible idea? I will answer in the form of another question: what kind of message are our leaders sending the rest of the world when they decide to attack a country that has actually cooperated in the past?

This is exactly the point Jonathan Schwarz makes in his article in The Huffington Post:

In all the discussion about the current U.S. bombing of Libya, something important has gone almost unnoticed — the lesson the United States is teaching the government of every country on earth. That lesson is: no matter what, no matter the inducements or pressure, never ever give up chemical weapons or a nuclear weapons program. Doing so will not ensure that the U.S. does not attack you — on the contrary, it will make it much more likely.


In Libya’s case, Muammar Gaddafi announced in December 2003 that it was renouncing all WMD — Libya possessed chemical weapons, ballistic missiles and a nuclear weapons program — and invited international inspectors to certify its compliance. The U.S. declared that this “demonstrates that, in a world of strong nonproliferation norms, it is never too late to make the decision to become a fully compliant NPT state,” and that Libya would be “amply rewarded.” From the perspective of many governments, Libya is now receiving its reward, in the form of hundreds of Tomahawk missiles and the likely downfall of the regime that agreed to disarm.

I’m no more a fan of Muammar Gaddafi than I am Hugo Chavez, Kim Jung Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Robert Mugabe and I hope they will each have to answer to their own people someday. But even as despicable as these individuals are, they aren’t stupid (though arguably crazy in some instances). If you were one of these dictators, how do you think you would respond if you witnessed from afar the U.S. using its military might to topple a fellow despot who gave up his WMD program to satisfy the nonproliferation policies the U.S. had long pursued in the region? Would you be more or less likely to pursue a WMD program?

How could the Obama administration not recognize that this could undermine these nonproliferation efforts?

Schwarz believes that none of this was lost on those within the administration but was part of the calculations.

But here’s what no Americans know: the current attack on Libya is not an unforeseen glitch in our efforts to get them to disarm. Instead, it was the explicit policy of the U.S. to get countries to disarm so that we would be able to attack them.

This may sound ridiculous to many Americans. After all, no president ever puts it like that. Instead, they say: our enemies must disarm because they threaten the precious lives of our citizens! But in fact when talking to each other, U.S. government officials say it over and over again: we don’t oppose countries like Iraq, Libya and Iran having WMD because we’re scared they’re going to attack us with them. Instead, we oppose them having WMD because that would allow them to deter us from attacking them.

From there, Schwarz cites examples from a 2001 memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and several paragraphs from a paper entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” written by a Neoconservative group called Project for a New American Century.

I don’t know how much this sort of thinking is in place in the Obama administration and couldn’t say if this attack on Libya is a result of such thinking or just plain old shortsightedness. Either way, this intervention is a horrible mistake and will have negative repercussions even beyond Libya itself.

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  • Dr. T

    “How could the Obama administration not recognize that this could undermine these nonproliferation efforts?”

    Pick one or more answers:

    Because it didn’t even consider the issue.

    Because it lacks concern about nonproliferation. It certainly has done nothing about Iran or North Korea.

    Because it wants to look powerful now and cares nothing about the future.

    Because it knows that Reagan scared the crap out of Gaddafi, and it believes that even if Gaddafi retains power he won’t use terrorism to retaliate against the USA.

    Because it cares nothing about weakening the international prestige of the USA, and it may consider a loss of prestige to be a benefit. After all, Obama deliberately snubs and annoys allies and kowtows (literally) to unfriendly dictators and theocrats.

    Because it wants to suck-up to the United Nations and its failed concept of enforcing peace through multinational agreements about the use of force.

  • Brad Warbiany

    Well I believe the basic principle that nations are aiming to get WMD because it means that the US (and the world community) all of a sudden lose a bargaining chip with them, I’m not entirely buying this one.

    Obama didn’t go balls-to-the-wall on this action like Bush. He didn’t really do shit until the UN led the way. And even today, I think we’re letting the Brits and French take most of the actual air sorties, and only offering cruise missile strikes. I think the world can decouple the question of developing WMD vs. the US laying down some ordinance.

    This is, quite clearly, a different Arab world than that of 2003. Between Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, etc, we’re talking about a whole different ballgame. What Gadhafi did in 2003 ain’t going to change the tide in 2011. We’re not going to stand up for this tin-pot dictator.

    As much as I think we should have stayed out of this in Libya (leaving it to the world community to, for once, do something without us), I think this is a stretch. While WMD proliferation is bad, should we really send the message to Arab dictators that we’ll back you against your own people in an uprising if only you’ll swear off WMD? Will that improve our image on the Arab street?

  • Akston

    Perhaps these tin pot despots see nuclear weapons as both a defense against erratic U.S. foreign policies, and leverage with high shakedown potential.

    Not getting enough international welfare from U.S. taxpayers? Brandish a nuke.

    Any of them silly enough to buck this incentive both disarm themselves, and lose their ticket to the feeding trough.

    And yes, this will not end well.