The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, March 04, 2005

Leverett in 2004

Flynt Leverett has worked for the CIA and NSA (the latter as senior director for Middle Eastern affairs, though it is not clear how many "senior directors" exist at once). He is now at the Brookings Institute. He has recently written in the New York Times, urging accomodation with Syria.

In January 2004, when Libya announced that it was dismantling its nuclear-weapons programs, the Bush administration (and particularly its willingness to uphold international law by invading Iraq) was widely credited. Leverett, in a New York Times editorial, largely disagreed.
The roots of the recent progress with Libya go back not to the eve of the Iraq war, but to the Bush administration's first year in office. Indeed, to be fair, some credit should even be given to the second Clinton administration. Tired of international isolation and economic sanctions, the Libyans decided in the late 1990's to seek normalized relations with the United States, and held secret discussions with Clinton administration officials to convey that message. The Clinton White House made clear that no movement toward better relations was possible until Libya met its responsibilities stemming from the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
These discussions, along with mediation by the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, produced a breakthrough: Libya turned over two intelligence officers implicated in the Pan Am 103 attack to the Netherlands for trial by a Scottish court, and in 1999 Washington acquiesced to the suspension of United Nations sanctions against Libya.

Leverett then describes the lengthy negotiations by which Libya was persuaded to compensate the victims' families and even apologize. He next addresses the weapons issue:
But during these two years of talks, American negotiators consistently told the Libyans that resolving the Lockerbie situation would lead to no more than elimination of United Nations sanctions. To get out from under the separate United States sanctions, Libya would have to address other concerns, particularly regarding its programs in weapons of mass destruction.
This is the context in which Libyan officials approached the United States and Britain last spring to discuss dismantling Libya's weapons program. The Iraq war, which had not yet started, was not the driving force behind Libya's move.
Leverett emphasizes the carrot (lifting of United States sanctions) over the stick. Certainly it is disingenuous of him to point out that the Iraq war "had not yet started", since the "rush to war" had been under way for over three months. He then urges the application of the same carrot-first approach to Syria:

Likewise, senior Syrian officials — including President Bashar al-Assad himself, in a conversation in Damascus last week — have told me that they want a better strategic understanding with the United States. To achieve this, however, Washington needs to be willing to spell out what Syria would get in return for giving up its ties to terrorists and its chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. As Mr. Assad told me, Syria is "a state, not a charity" — if it gives up something, it must know what it will gain in return.
One reason the Bush administration was able to take a more constructive course with Libya was that the White House, uncharacteristically, sidelined the administration's neoconservative wing — which strongly opposes any offer of carrots to state sponsors of terrorism, even when carrots could help end such problematic behavior — when crucial decisions were made. The initial approach on the Lockerbie case was approved by an informal coalition made up of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Likewise, in the lead up to the negotiations involving Libyan weapons of mass destruction, the neoconservatives at the Pentagon and in the shop of Under Secretary of State John Bolton were left out of the loop.

Mr. Leverett's recent article is a natural extension of his earlier writings. His case is plausible, but cannot explain the curious coincidence of timing by which Libya's disarmament came on the heels of the Iraq invasion, and Syria's newfound accomodation on those of those historic elections.