It has been very clear, since the end of February, that the crisis in Libya is becoming an event that, without decisive handling by the world’s major powers, could endanger not only the global economy’s halting steps to recovery from the 2007-2009 recession, but what there is of stability in the Middle East and even further afield. Lee Smith, at the Weekly Standard’s site, has a post that ably sums up the situation:
[T]he Iranians and their allies are using Libya as yet another battleground for their regional war against the U.S.-backed order—the shame is that Washington is all but oblivious to what’s at stake.
Now, let’s go back….a full quarter-century, to a house in Saddle River, New Jersey.
It’s the spring of 1986. MTV still plays videos around the clock. Compact discs are still strange and rather pricey things, struggling to gain space at your local record store against tapes and vinyl. Charlie Sheen is a fresh-faced twenty-year-old who hasn’t even been seen in Ferris Bueller yet, much less Platoon.
There are Yugos on the road. That’s how far back we’ve gone.
In the study of that home in leafiest Bergen County, the thirty-seventh President of the United States has finished a lunch of turtle soup, fillet of beef, and Chateau Lafite-Rothschild ’61 with his guests, three members of the Newsweek staff. (The magazine’s ownership by a nonagenarian and editorship by the inimitable Tina Brown are far in the future; Katharine Graham is the one who has made the decision to feature Richard Nixon on the cover.)
A few weeks before, on April 5, 1986, two sergeants in the United States Army, and a woman from Turkey, had been murdered by a bomb planted in the DJ’s booth in a discotheque in Berlin. American intelligence learned that orders to plant the bomb had come directly from Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi (to use the spelling Newsweek had decided upon).
Nine days later, airstrikes ordered by President Reagan were launched at Kaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, with 100 deaths as the result. Kaddafi, as was his habit, played to the emotions of television viewers by announcing that his young “adopted daughter” had died in the attack. But he did not attempt further atrocities upon American citizens for the rest of the year and the next one, at least. (Recent reports state that the former justice minister of Libya, now one of the leaders of the opposition government formed in Benghazi, has confirmed that Kaddafi ordered the bombing of Pan American Flight 103, less than a month before Reagan left office.)
But, in early May 1986, it was still not clear whether Kaddafi would strike again. President Nixon was asked what he thought the United States should do, after he mentioned to the journalists that Reagan “called me after the Libyan business and we chatted a bit about it.” He replied:
As far as what we call the bombing option is concerned, that cannot be used again unless it is massive. We learned in Vietnam, one of the lessons of the many we had to learn, that gradual escalation does not bring down a fanatic. With Kaddafi I think we did the right thing at that time, but from now on we’ve got to think in bigger terms. If bombing is resorted to again it must be a knockout blow. The only problem with that…is whether or not public opinion, not just in Europe but in this country, would take it.
The other option is seems to me, and the most obvious one, is what I call a quarantine. An economic and diplomatic quarantine. Everybody must join, and I mean everybody. Lacking that, if [our allies] don’t go along on an economic blockade, then we certainly should consider a naval blockade.
And I would add one other thing. Remember when Reagan said, “If [Syria and Iran] do it we’ll bomb them too,” or words to that effect, and then the State Department said, “No, we’re not considering that.” A great mistake. Always, always – never talk about what you’re going to do, but don’t tell them what you’re not going to do. The latest is [Secretary of State George P.] Shultz endorsed the idea of developing a covert capability…to infiltrate and disrupt. I would respectfully suggest, develop it but quit talking about it.
If there’s one thing I would say in this area of terrorism, [it] is to cool the rhetoric. Rhetoric is just water on their paddle.
(From “The Sage Of Saddle River,” Newsweek, May 19, 1986, pp. 33-34)