Ever since President Bush’s you’re-either-with-us-or-with-the-terrorists speech in 2001, his administration has been regarded as shaping its defense policy according to black-and-white moral judgments. If you haven’t already been convinced that that speech was empty rhetoric, last week offered another depressing piece of evidence.
Washington refused to oppose, or even protest, Libya’s election to a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
A genuine commitment to the principle of justice would entail recognizing that Libya’s character — like that of an individual — is the sum of its words and conduct across years, and that it cannot be transformed overnight.
No one would believe a career thief who claims that he’s renounced his vile behavior and transformed his character instantly. It is the thief’s responsibility to go out of his way to acknowledge and condemn his past actions, to make restitution where possible, and to demonstrate a commitment to the law across years. The burden, in other words, is on him to prove he has reshaped his moral character and is no longer a threat.
Likewise, no one should believe that a vicious regime such as Libya has (as it claims) suddenly transformed itself into a civilized, peace-loving country. Remember, among other heinous attacks, Libya is responsible for the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed over 200 passengers.
Before Libya will even deserve a hearing, it must bend over backwards to prove its commitment to peaceful co-existence with other nations, across many years. For example, Libya must reject dictatorship, dethrone Gaddafi and prosecute him. It must exhaustively confess and document the regime’s crimes. In the name of restitution, it must declare that all Islamic terrorists are its enemies, and not simply name a few names, but actively combat other terrorist regimes such as Iran. Such steps would constitute only the very early beginnings of what Libya would have to do to make credible its disavowal of aggression. Before we can regard Libya as a non-hostile nation, it must prove unequivocally, in word and deed, that it has undergone a fundamental transformation.
But when in 2003 Libya promised to end its terrorism and to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Washington took Gaddafi’s word as golden and decided that, suddenly, Libya was our ally against terrorism. So Washington agreed to restore diplomatic relations and lift economic sanctions.
Has Libya truly renounced terrorism? About a year after its overture to Washington, the regime was discovered to be fomenting a terrorist plot in Saudi Arabia. And although the U.S. State Department had re-affirmed Libya as a sponsor of terrorism as recently as March 2006, only two months later Washington removed Libya from the list of terrorist states. Has Libya diligently tried to make restitution to victims of its terrorism? Hardly. It grudgingly agreed to compensate the families of its victims, and then unrepentantly dragged its feet in making payments.
Libya has not even come close to changing its character — yet the Bush administration warmly opened its arms to the dictatorial regime.
Why? It wants to send Iran the signal that it could similarly resolve the conflict over its nuclear quest and its longstanding terror war against the United States. Explaining the rationale, Secretary of State Rice said: “Libya is an important model as nations around the world press for changes in the behavior by the Iranian and North Korean regimes.” This is America trying to project itself as a morally confident nation that will not tolerate evil regimes . . . by hastily forgiving the evil Libyan regime. It is a pathetic joke, and will do nothing to deter Teheran from its nuclear ambition.
The Bush administration has mocked justice — and thus shown our enemies that they have nothing to fear from us.
If we are to form true alliances and protect ourselves from hostile regimes, America must steer its foreign policy according to the objective requirements of justice.