It is rapidly becoming a truism that all the middle east’s problems are so intertwined that they must be all negotiated at more-or-less the same time, and not sequentially. And yet, even if we accept this analysis, it still makes sense to single out Iran.
This is because if Iran can be got right, a lot of the other dominoes will be easier to fit into place. It is Iran that Israel fears most. It is Iran that has most influence on Hamas. And it is Iran that can contribute most significantly to peace in Iraq and the Lebanon.
And to discuss Iran we must talk about Libya. Libya only a few years ago presented many of the same problems as Iran does today. Not only was it on the cusp of producing nuclear weapons, it was a terrorist state writ large. The downing over Lockerbie, Scotland, of a US airliner was only the apogee of a continuous line of terrorist activity over a 30 period. Yet, by careful diplomacy, Libya’s teeth were gradually drawn—and in September last year the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Tripoli, declared that the rapprochement with Libya was ”an historic event.”
Former Vice-President Dick Cheney likes to assert that it was Iraq that did it; that Muammar el-Qaddafi finally got scared by American sabre rattling. ”Five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi came forward and announced that he was going to surrender all his nuclear materials to the US.” The record suggests otherwise. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage flatly contradicted his boss. Libya’s concessions ”didn’t have anything to do” with Hussein’s capture, he said.
President Ronald Reagan had singularly failed in his coercive diplomacy. Subsequent presidents tried a milder and, in the end, more successful approach, more carrot than stick. But it took a long time, stretching over three U.S. administrations. They obviously realized that the bombing that Reagan unleashed, that wounded Qaddafi and killed one of his children, was counter-productive: it led directly to the Lockerbie revenge. Regime change was replaced by policy change, an important positive influence on Qaddafi and one that the US and Britain kept stressing. It had become clear that militant tactics by Washington added strength to Qaddafi’s uncertain political base at home. Moreover, later…