John McCain's selective memory on Libya
Whatever you think about the Obama administration's handling of the Libya situation so far, I propose we can all take some comfort in the knowledge that decisions made by a McCain administration would likely be much worse. John McCain was gung-ho to bomb Libya, but that's no surprise. It's his reasoning that's raising eyebrows, as noted by Salon's Justin Elliott:
Speaking on CBS' "The Early Show" today, McCain twice cited the fact that Moammar Gadhafi has "American blood on his hands" as a reason the U.S. should try to oust the dictator. McCain specifically referred to the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which was indeed carried out by a Libyan agent.
That's a very valid reason to be opposed to Gadhafi's remaining in power. But it didn't always seem that way to John McCain. As Elliott notes, under George W. Bush and then Barack Obama, U.S. relations with Gadhafi had been improving.
Who else was involved in the effort to forge better ties with Gadhafi? John McCain. In August 2009 he led a delegation of senators, including fellow hawks Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, on a trip to visit the Libyan leader in Tripoli. Discussed during the visit was delivery of -- get this -- American military equipment to Gadhafi (a man with American blood on his hands no less).
Elliott followed up in another post with more details about McCain's formerly cooperative stance toward Gadhafi. Some of the details are courtesy of WikiLeaks. But it's not as though McCain was keeping the mission a secret at the time:
And Jason Linkins points out that the diplomatic meeting in August 2009 where McCain et al. discussed the possibility of the U.S. providing military equipment to Gadhafi happened not a week before the Lockerbie bomber returned to Libya and was received as a hero. McCain and company knew the release was being negotiated; the AP reported that they "warned Libyan officials of possible damage to U.S.-Libyan relations if al-Megrahi's return were to be handled in the wrong fashion." So it's not as though he'd plumb forgotten about the American blood on Gadhafi's hands back in 2009. It just didn't get in the way of discussing possible U.S. military aid to his government.In the Early Show interview (which you can watch here), McCain makes reference to the Lockerbie bombing as just one reason why Gadhafi deserves our wrath -- part of what makes him "a proven quantity" (and therefore worth ousting regardless of how little we know about his opponents). But as Elliott concludes:
There's nothing contradictory about previously advocating for normalization of relations with Gadhafi and then shifting, in the face of Gadhafi's attacks on rebels, to supporting a bombing campaign. That's not what McCain is doing. He is arguing that Ghadafi needs to be ousted because he has American blood on his hands (from 1988), when the senator himself was meeting with and praising the Libyan regime a mere 18 months ago.
Wouldn't it be nice if a television journalist went into an interview like this one prepared to ask the subject about his previous positions on the topic, especially where those positions had obviously changed? It's possible McCain would have a thoughtful explanation for how he got from 2009 to now. But nobody asked.
Erica Hill did have one very good question, however, which prompted an answer from McCain that I found even more alarming than his unacknowledged about-face on Gadhafi. Should we arm the rebels in Libya, she asked, and what about the risk that in doing so we might end up arming Al Qaeda? McCain replied that he (now) thinks arming the rebels in Libya is a good idea, because after all, we got arms to the rebels in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Soviets. And what a success story that turned out to be! Right? Too bad Hill didn't ask a follow-up question there. It seems relevant.
About the Author
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.