The Libyan lesson
It's refreshing to see the LA Times admit a U.S. diplomatic victory in the Middle East:
Perhaps the most important lesson to be taken from Libya's arc from an instigator to a foe of international terrorism is that sanctions can work if they're carefully crafted. The travel restrictions and other sanctions against Libya were multilateral, widely respected and well targeted. They provide a helpful example as the world considers imposing sanctions on countries such as Iran, which is developing its own nuclear program despite worldwide objections.
Another lesson is one that should resonate in the Arab world: The U.S. doesn't hold a grudge. Even for those countries deepest in the international doghouse, diplomacy works better than saber-rattling. Come to think of it, that's a lesson that should resonate in the White House too.
Unfortunately, the editorial board at the paper seems to believe that sanctions are what finally flipped Gaddafi. I don't buy that for a minute.
Libya announced it was giving up its WMD program on 19DEC2003, six days after images of a cowed and dishevelled Saddam Hussein were flashed across the planet's television screens. Negotiations had begun nine months earlier, right around the time the American-led coalition was about to invade Iraq.
Call it coincidence if you will, but you won't get me to believe it. It's my opinion that fear of being the next Arab leader to have his in-processing medical broadcast around the world pushed Gaddafi over the edge.
The credible threat of military force, not just sanctions, worked diplomatic wonders - this time.
Unfortunately, you can't extrapolate future strategy from this. Although there's an argument to be made that they worked against South Africa, sanctions haven't worked against Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Cuba. But threatening force hasn't worked against against any of those countries either. And even a combination of the two - economic stick and military stick - hasn't produced even coerced compliance anywhere in recent years except - what, Syria? How confident do you feel in their change of heart? Invasion has kind of worked in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, but those are hardly perfect solutions, and may turn out to have been mistakes (I don't believe they were, but only history will tell). Feel free to correct me if you can find a pattern I'm missing here - something that works all the time.
Sanctions can work. Threats can work. Direct military action can work. Diplomacy can work. None of those foreign policy tools works all the time, and none fails every time either. There are no easy answers here, and just because the LA Times prefers one method over another doesn't mean they can ignore that fact.