15 February 2013

McCain and Graham’s Unanswered Questions about Libya

John McCain and Lindsey Graham were among the Republican Senators who this week filibustered President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Hagel is their former colleague and friend, and they’d said they wouldn’t filibuster that nomination. But they insist that they have too many unanswered questions about Libya.

There are some questions about Libya I’d like to see answered, too. On 14 Aug 2009, Sens. McCain, Graham, Joseph Lieberman (now retired), and Susan Collins (who voted against the filibuster) met with Libya’s dictator, Muammar Qadhafi, and his son and advisor, Muatassim al-Qadhafi. There’s brief video footage of the senators greeting the Qadhafis in Tripoli. That was part of a gingerly warming of relations between the US and Libya that began in the Bush-Cheney administration.

The 19 Aug 2009 Boston Globe reported:
“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.
Details emerged when Wikileaks released a cable from the US Embassy in Tripoli reporting on the meeting. That cable reported the younger Qadhafi’s interest in Libya being able to buy military equipment from the US and described the senators’ responses:
Senator McCain assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated that he understood Libya’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C130s [cargo planes purchased from Lockheed but never delivered] and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. . . .

Senators McCain and Graham conveyed the U.S. interest in continuing the progress of the bilateral relationship and pledged to try to resolve the C130 issue with Congress and Defense Secretary Gates.
Those cargo planes had been mentioned in the briefing document provided to McCain and his colleagues by the State Department, which also said: “It would be helpful if you could provide congressional perspectives on lethal sales to Libya and the security commitments that must be fulfilled prior to any U.S. consideration of lethal sales.” So the senators were prepared for that topic.

After the diplomatic cables leaked, McCain denied having said the things they described. He insisted the cable was simply incorrect. McCain indeed hadn’t reviewed and cleared it at the time. But he evidently felt the press and public should accept his word that the US diplomats whose job was to accurately record and report the conversation would be wrong on important points.

As for Graham, he didn’t deny making promises to the Qadhafis, but simply said he hadn’t acted on them:
Graham chuckled Thursday when he was asked whether he’d ever delivered on his pledge to the Gadhafis to endeavor to free up the C-130s.

“We never did anything,” the senator said. “I didn’t feel comfortable pushing the Pentagon to provide military aircraft to Libya. None of us did.”
There are a lot of discrepancies in the reports of this episode: between the senators and the State Department; between the two senators themselves; and between the senators’ cordial meeting with the Qadhafis in 2009 and their insistence that the Obama administration was being too mild when it helped to overthrow that regime two years later.

Of course, none of that has to do with Chuck Hagel, who wasn’t on the trip to Libya and isn’t yet part of the Obama administration. Sen. Graham and Sen. McCain say they just want more information about Libya. I think they could start by being honest about what they told the Qadhafis in 2009. Perhaps they could be the first witnesses at a congressional hearing.

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