During his 2010 reelection campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) frequently made great sport of his rival, J.D. Hayworth, for Hayworth's tendency to misstate basic facts about American military history. But now, McCain is in full-on "we are all Benghazians" mode, and on this morning's edition of CBS's "The Early Show," McCain made a big deal about how Muammar Gaddafi has "American blood on his hands." But over at Salon's War Room, Justin Elliott finds that there's ample opportunity for Hayworth to claw back a little bit of his lost pride.
What McCain is apparently forgetting is that, apart from the past few weeks, the last decade has been a period of rapprochement between the United States and Libya. It started with President Bush announcing in 2003 that Gadhafi had agreed to give up his "weapons of mass destruction" programs. In 2006 Bush removed Libya from the official list of state sponsors of terrorism. In September 2008 Condoleezza Rice traveled to Libya to have talks with Gadhafi. And just a few days before the 2008 presidential election, Bush signed a settlement under which Libya compensated families of victims of Lockerbie and other 80s-era attacks.
Who else was involved in the effort to forge better ties with Gadhafi? John McCain. In August 2009 he led a delegation of senators including fellow hawks Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman on a trip to visit the Libyan leader in Tripoli. Discussed during the visit was delivery of -- get this -- American military equipment to Gadhafi (a man with American blood on his hands no less).
Indeed, you can look it up:
A delegation of US senators led by John McCain met with Libya's leader yesterday to discuss the possible delivery of nonlethal defense equipment. The visit and Washington's offer of military equipment was another sign of the improving ties between the former longtime adversaries.
"We discussed the possibility of moving ahead with the provision of nonlethal defense equipment to the government of Libya,'' McCain said during a press conference. He gave no details on the kind of military equipment Washington is offering.
At the time -- Aug. 15, 2009, if you're keeping score -- McCain hedged somewhat, expressing concerns about "status of human rights and political reform in Libya." Here's what's amazing: five days later, the infamous Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, landed in Tripoli to a hero's welcome. At the time of McCain's trip to Libya, all that legal wrangling that led to al-Megrahi's release was transpiring. But it didn't take the possibility of beefing up Gaddafi's military capacity off the table.
(Upon al-Megrahi's return, the Associated Press reported that the White House had registered strong objections to his release, and that "three senators who met with Gadhafi on a recent trip to Libya" -- McCain, Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- "said they had warned Libyan officials of possible damage to U.S.-Libyan relations if al-Megrahi's return were to be handled in the wrong fashion." Left out of the story was that that recent trip was five days prior, and that those senators were discussing a military equipment deal.
So, I'm guessing that McCain's concerns were pretty limited then, just as they are now in his insistence that we should arm the rebel forces in Libya, who, as you probably already know, are much like Gaddafi in that they have "American blood on their hands" as well. Elliott does a good job pointing out McCain's blasé grasp of the relevant history (emphasis in the original):
HOST: When you talk about your hope to actually arm the rebels, how confident are we that these folks -- that (a) we know who they are and that (b) they're not connected to some terrorist organization like Al Qaeda and will not ultimately turn on the United States and U.S. allies?
MCCAIN: Well what we know of them so far obviously are that the former justice minister and others -- and a government has been formed, part of that government. But Gadhafi is a proven quantity. The blood of Americans is on his hands because he was responsible for the bombing of Pan Am 103. He has been involved in other acts of terror. And by the way it does take time, as it did during the period of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. But we were able to provide them with some weapons and wherewithal to cause the Russians to leave Afghanistan. So we can do it.
Yeah, remember kids, when you watch Charlie Wilson's War, watch it all the way to the end.
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John McCain's Libya Amnesia [War Room @ Salon]