There was a palpable strain in U.S.-Libyan relations after the bombing of Tripoli, when U.S. fighter planes bombed the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi overnight into April 15, 1986, in response to what President Reagan was convinced was a Qaddafi-backed bombing at a West Berlin disco that killed several American soldiers ten days prior.
Qaddafi blamed all his troubles on the West and Israel. He believed that Secretary of State George Schultz was “really an Israeli” and that Ronald Reagan ought to be convicted as a murder and madman. His consuming hatred for Reagan and the West was clearly a reflection of his ultimate and delusionary goal to unite all Arab nations under his rule.
“Arab unity is a unification of Arab countries into states like the United States,” he said. “This is the role I am playing—a mixture of the roles of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,” he said, boastfully confiding in Richard Chesnoff, a veteran journalist who interviewed Qaddafi twice.
Chesnoff’s first visit to Qaddafi was in October 1986, hardly six months after the bombing of Tripoli. It was Qaddafi’s first interview with an American reporter since the attack and was skillfully arranged by the Libyan ambassador in Paris, where Chesnoff was based working for US News and World Report.
In 1986, Qaddafi was a popular man, not so much in his people’s eyes, who have always feared him, but in the eyes of businessmen, advisers and terrorists looking for a handout. The lobby of the upscale Al Kabir Hotel became a curious social scene, dotted with crowds of men all waiting to see Qaddafi.
Chesnoff was confined to his hotel for over a week waiting for ‘the call’ that would confirm his interview with Qadaffi. On the ninth night, he was finally summoned, and within five minutes, he was on his way to the Presidential Palace.
Still angry over the bombing that had targeted the Palace, Qaddafi insisted that the two sit in the middle of the shattered glass, marble and destruction for the interview.
“I want you to see what the U.S. president tried to do to me; how Reagan tried to kill me,” he told Chesnoff.
Complementing his outlandish and off tilt political rhetoric was the bizarre décor and ambience of his home. Velvet paintings of wild animals alternated with portraits of Qadaffi in various costumes. He had himself drawn in everything from the traditional Arab ghalabiya and military uniforms to ski paraphernalia.
Nothing was as peculiar as the photomontage of the waves at Big Sur that adorned his circular bed’s headboard. The contradictions between the old and new pointed to the fact that despite controlling his people by fear and intimidation, Qaddafi and his sons led a Western lifestyle, enjoying many modern pastimes.
Chesnoff was invited back to interview Qaddafi in 1994 because, in the words of the Libyan leader, he “had quoted [his] words just as [he] said them,” in his 1986 interview. While Chesnoff was aiming to show the true character of the dictator, Qaddafi was proud that his harsh rhetoric was not the least bit distorted.
The year 1994 marked a new administration in Washington D.C. and a new-found surge in Qaddafi’s political aspirations.
“The real revolution starts now. We will lead the world toward a new era, eliminating armies and bringing an end to the evils of traditional governments, parties and classes. In their place we will establish a Jamahiriya, a state of the masses. Then and only then will a lasting peace be realized,” he told Chesnoff in their last interview.
Qaddafi was optimistic about relations with Bill Clinton. He believed that he would resume his goal of creating an Arab dynasty in the Middle East.
He did not amass the caliphate he was hoping for during Bill Clinton’s presidency, but he did manage to keep a stronghold on the country for another 17 years, partly due to a deal struck up by the Americans and the British that began under Clinton.
With guaranteed U.S. financial and political backing, Qaddafi publicly renounced his agenda to develop nuclear capability in 2004. Coinciding with the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Qaddafi vowed to root out Al-Qaeda and abandon his support of any other internal and external terrorist groups. In exchange, he was granted full U.S. diplomatic recognition.
There was a major glitch in the deal. To the outside world, Qaddafi declared his anti-terrorism platform. Yet internally, he was a brutal dictator who ruled by terrorizing his own people. The deal did nothing to further the cause of the Libyan people. On the contrary, it allowed Qaddafi to continue ruling with an iron fist while simultaneously remaining an acknowledged member of the League of Nations.
Until, last month.
It may have been Bill Clinton who whetted Qaddafi’s appetite, cozying up to a terrorist, but now, ironically, among others it is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is demanding the ouster of a man her husband helped to bolster.
“Nothing is off the table so long as the Libyan government continues to threaten and kill Libyan citizens,” Hillary Clinton said to reporters in Geneva where she traveled to pressure European allies to take a stand against Libyan President Qaddafi.
More than 1,000 have been brutally killed in protests and 140,000 have fled the country to neighboring Tunisia and Egypt.
The Obama administration announced unilateral sanctions against Libya Friday while the United Nations Security Council approved its own sanctions Saturday, followed by the European Union on Monday.
The U.S. military is moving air and naval forces closer to Libya as nations discuss the implementation of a no-fly zone.
Everything comes with a price. As we saw in the deal that was negotiated between the U.S., the U.K and a legitimized terrorist, evil can only go so long without resurfacing to affect us all. This time around, we hope the people of Libya will be the victors.