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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Friday, 21 March, 2003

The US State Department Goes Easy On Libya

State Dept. goes easy on Libya

By: Joel Mowbray

Abandoning the United Nations when the recalcitrant body failed to honor its moral obligations, the president did what he had to do. But for that effort to be truly successful -- not the military campaign, but the post-Saddam Hussein rebuilding of Iraq -- he must address the biggest obstacle within his own administration: the State Department.

Last Friday, contents of a State Department report blasting the president's push for democracy in the region was leaked to the Los Angeles Times. But what wasn't reported by the Times is that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy by State. Witness State's long-term undermining of the Iraqi National Congress (Iraq's opposition forces) and its near-completed mission to relegitimize Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

In a classified report titled "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes," the State Department boldly declares that democracy will not spread in the Middle East following the fall of Saddam, if democracy even takes root in Iraq. Essentially arguing that the Arab and Muslim populations are not fit for self-rule, State's report claims that "[e]lectoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements." Many in the administration are livid.

Rather than a conclusion based on new or emerging evidence, the document reflects the long-held views of State. And so far, State has been right. But that has happened because State makes it so, by shunning freedom movements and propping up despots.

Its predictions about the daunting challenges democracy faces in Iraq have some merit, for example, because State has spent years messing with the Iraqi National Congress, the umbrella organization of Iraqi opposition groups. After withholding funds from the INC and attempting to shut some of its key players out of post-Iraq planning, of course the prospects for a vibrant democracy are lessened when the best vehicle for achieving that goal has been severely weakened by State. And now State is reviving the tyrant of Tripoli.

At a meeting last week with the families of the victims of the 1988 Pam Am 103 bombing, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns indicated that there would be no more meetings with Libyan officials -- there have been several since early last year -- and that the U.N. sanctions related to Pam Am Fight 103 could be dropped in a matter of weeks. Gadhafi's rehabilitation is almost complete.

Normalizing Gadhafi will allow a smooth transfer of the throne to his son -- who will also take possession of weapons of mass destruction. Burns acknowledged to the families that Gadhafi still has WMDs, which State considers a matter of "concern." What Burns didn't tell the families, though, is that Gadhafi still funds terrorists, including al-Qaida affiliates.

Though Libya is not a country that would easily embrace democracy, State's actions to relegitimize Gadhafi will make freedom there a nearly impossible goal. And if State acts in a similar manner in Iraq and other Middle Eastern nations, State's predictions that democracy won't take root in the region will indeed become a reality.

Joel Mowbray is a writer for Washington Review.

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