WASHINGTON -- Paul Wolfowitz, a former Bush administration official known as one of the key architects of the Iraq war, has been sharply criticizing the Obama administration in recent weeks for its response to the crisis in Libya, saying the president has been "too slow" to condemn leader Muammar Gaddafi. But in an interview with CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on Sunday, Wolfowitz also went after his former boss for going too far in normalizing relations with Libya.
In 2003, President Bush announced that although Libya had been developing weapons of mass destruction, Gaddafi had "agreed to immediately and unconditionally allow inspectors from international organizations to enter Libya." "These inspectors will render an accounting of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and will help oversee their elimination," Bush said.
In August 2005, Bush sent then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to Libya to begin a process of normalizing relations with the country.
Wolfowitz, who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense until June 2005, seemed to imply that he disagreed with some of the administration's decisions at the time, and he thought the president went too far.
"Look, I think we needed to give some acknowledgment to the fact that he handed over his nuclear weapons program, but it was an illegal program," said Wolfowitz. "And I thought we were giving him a lot by, in effect, saying you won't suffer the fate of Saddam Hussein. I don't think we had to go nearly as far as we went. There was a lot of pressure from the Pan Am 103 families because they wanted to collect the money that Gadhafi was offered."
Host Fareed Zakaria seemed surprised by Wolfowitz's claim about the Pan Am families and began to ask, "Do you think that's really --"
Wolfowitz replied that at one point, he was told that the pressure from the families was "significant" but added he couldn't prove it.
"But the United States went ahead and restored full diplomatic relations and had the secretary of state visit. I think we should have drawn more of a line," he added. "Some move was appropriate. I think we went too far."
It's unclear whether the Bush administration did receive pressure from the families in that direction, but in 2008, ABC News reported that many of those same families -- who lost loved ones when Libya ordered the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 -- were upset that the Bush administration was normalizing relations while Gaddafi was still in power.
Libya had agreed to "pay $2.7 billion in compensation, or $10 million to each family of the 270 victims." But at that point, each family was still owed a final $2 million. Libya, as ABC reported, "was supposed to pay it when the U.S. removed it from its list of states that sponsor terrorism in 2006."
"I would gladly forego the money to have Libya remain on the state sponsored terrorism list, so long as Gaddafi's in power," said Peter Lowenstein, who lost his son in the bombing.
Wolfowitz also continued his criticism of Obama's response to the current crisis, saying he was "mystified" by the administration's reaction.
"We've been just way too slow," he said. "And that slowness, we're going to pay a price for, for a long time. Al Jazeera, which is no friend to the United States but which has become, with some justification, a hero of these revolutionary movements is taking the -- showing a picture of the White House or the president, why is the U.S. being so silent? Why is it being as silent as these people? And then it shows pictures of the people who have been killed in the protests. It's a devastating image."
In Sunday's Washington Post, reporter Scott Wilson says that the administration measured its response out of fear that a hostage situation of U.S. citizens could develop in Libya. Diplomats in Tripoli reportedly told administration officials that "certain kinds of messaging from the American government could endanger the security of American citizens."
"That was the debate, and frankly we erred on the side of caution, for certain, and at the cost of some criticism," said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications. "But when you're sitting in government and you're told that ignoring that advice could endanger American citizens, that's a line you don't feel very comfortable crossing."
UPDATE, 3/1: Frank Duggan, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, contacted The Huffington Post and said that Wolfowitz was completely wrong in his characterization of the victims' families.
"I know of no Pan Am 103 family member who wanted to get rid of the Libya sanctions 'to get the money.' Many opposed this position, and the family organization, after intense debate, issued a statement that they would not object to this if it would contribute to world peace and Gadhafi would cooperate with the US and cease his terrorism. Wolfowitz has it exactly backwards."
The 2003 statement:
Fifteen years ago, Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi murdered our sons and daughters, our mothers and fathers, our husbands and wives, our brothers and sisters, our loved ones and our friends.
After 15 years, the families still long to know the reason why their loved ones were murdered. Colonel el-Qaddafi has admitted responsibility without contrition or apology. If we had our choice, we would rather that Col. el-Qaddafi be brought to a criminal dock, as other war criminals have, or be subjected to a "regime change", as has Saddam Hussein. As he seeks an end to the economic sanctions that were imposed as a result of his treachery, we expect full disclosure of the facts.
We take some satisfaction in the fact, as stated by our Ambassador Burns, that Colonel el-Qaddafi's recent change of heart is the result of the actions of the families of Pan Am Flight 103. We are pleased that our actions may have helped assure that no other families endure what we have, at least from the hands of Colonel Qadhafi.
We are also pleased that the recent admission of WMD proliferation in Libya has encouraged other nations to permit inspections and removal of these weapons. If our actions have influenced North Korea, Iran and Syria to follow the actions of Libya, then the legacy of our murdered loved ones is affirmed and enhanced.
While we cannot support the lifting of Libyan sanctions, we recognize that there is a message to be sent to other "Rogue Nations" whose conduct should be changed. If a nation such as Libya complies with all of the demands made for rejoining the community of peaceful nations, it makes diplomatic sense to reward those actions. We hope that this will encourage other nations to change their behavior.
We take Ambassador Burns at his word that the U.S. Government will not take Colonel el-Qaddafi's overtures at face value, and will carefully examine his actions over the next few months. If, at that time, it is determined that World Peace would be better served by lifting the economic sanctions against Libya, we would not object to our Government taking this action. We will never forget what happened on December 21, 1988 and neither should the world.
UPDATE, 3/3: Rosemary Wolfe, who lost her stepdaughter Miriam in the bombing and has been active with the groups representing the victims' families, also sent a statement sharply disagreeing with Wolfowitz's comments:
Mr. Wolfowitz would have the world believe that the United States reestablished ties with Libya because of pressures from the Pan Am 103 families who wanted conmpensation. Nothing could be more absurd, hurtful, and further from the truth. His remarks are an insult and degrading to the memories of all 270 victims who were murdered in the December 1988 bombing and all of us who have worked tirelessly over the years for truth and justice. Wolfowtiz has joined the likes of Gadhafi's son, Saif, who has been silent on the crime but publicly vocal on the "greed" of the families. Wolfowitz' remarks are a desperate attempt to redefine what were the inevitable flawed policies that led to the rapproachment with Libya and release of Megrahi, a Libyan, the only individual convicted of the terrorist murders by an internationally established court.
The history of efforts to bring justice to the victims and their families is fraught with determination and deals by governments and oil and business interests to bring Gadhafi's Libya back from outlaw status in the international community. This has been true since the U.S. and Britain issued indictments against two Libyan operatives in November 1991 and the UN subsequently imposed sanctions on Libya. From the day Megrahi, one of the two operatives, was convicted it was just a matter of time before the sanctions were removed. The sanctions were tough not only for Libya but for nations dependant on Libyan oil.
The eventual removal of U.S and UN sanctions against Libya was about access to that Libyan oil and partnership with Libya in a volatile global region. The world has also recently learned that he eventual release of Megrahi was also about access to Libyan oil and business.
Over the years the pressures from the the families of the victims were about an investigation, indictiments, detention, and sanctions -- truth and justice -- families did not want U.S. sanctions removed d but were powerless to stop their removal.
This is what the evidence shows. Mr. Wolfowitz brings none and says he has no proof. The U.S. families know that pressures from world govenments and big oil and business interests as well as U.S. policy goals were responsible for the removal of U.S. sanctions against Libya.
Mr. Wolfowitz brings shame on himself and all those surrounding him who fell for Gadhafi's tricks and substituted oil for justice.
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more