Middle East

Viewpoints From the Archives of World Press Review

April, 1986: The Same Old Gaddafi

Defiant Libyan protesters, February 21, 2011.

The United States attacked Libyan patrol boats from January to March 1986 during clashes over access to the Gulf of Sidra, which Libya claimed as territorial waters.

Later, on April 15, 1986, President Ronald Reagan ordered major bombing raids, dubbed Operation El Dorado Canyon, against Tripoli and Benghazi, killing 45 Libyan military and government personnel, as well as 15 civilians. This strike followed U.S. interception of Telex messages from Libya's East Berlin embassy suggesting Libyan government involvement in a bomb explosion in West Berlin's La Belle discotheque, a nightclub frequented by U.S. servicemen on April 5. Among the fatalities of the April 15 retaliatory attack by the United States was Gaddafi's infant daughter Hannah.

Yesterday, in a five-minute televised statement from the White House, President Obama stressed that Washington preferred to act in concert with other nations and international institutions. But he also hinted that Washington may consider taking unspecified unilateral action against the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

As I combed through the World Press archives today, I found an array of fascinating material from 1986. The archived material reminded me of something my French Canadian grandmother would always say: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Le Monde, Paris, France (Liberal), April 16, 1986: “We are not out to overthrow Gaddafi,” declared U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead the day before the U.S. attack on Libya. “The object of all of this is to get him to change his conduct.”

Toronto Star, Toronto, Canada (Independent), April 16, 1986: The U.S. has twice before traded an eye for an eye – when it recently sent the Sixth Fleet into the Gulf of Sidra, and in 1981 when it shot down two Libyan fighters. The bomb explosion in the West Berlin disco was Gaddafi’s answer. Gaddafi is an enemy, but more to the point is the squalor and humiliation of the Palestinians. This is the nightmare nursery that breeds terrorists and would continue to do so even if Gaddafi were brought crashing down.

Akher Sa’a, Cairo, Egypt (Weekly), April 16, 1986: To what lengths can Gaddafi go in responding to an American attack. What did he expect, when he hurled hysterical threats at the U.S. and then dispatched terror squads to massacre innocent civilians? What is on the Colonel’s mind when he sits in his Bedouin tent inside his barracks? It is the Libyan people who will suffer the consequences and pay the price of the Colonel’s adventures. The people of the region will pay for his megalomania, and the security and stability of the Mediterranean will suffer.

The Australian, Sydney, Australia (Conservative), April 16. 1986: Gaddafi could face threats greater than the U.S. Sixth Fleet, say some authorities in Washington. And the threats are from within. In a baffling sequence of economic edicts, Gaddafi has closed a variety of service businesses – daycare centers, barbershops – saying they are wasteful and the services they perform can be done at home. There are reasonable grounds for estimating that the deepening economic crisis in Libya may soon precipitate an upheaval that will bring the Gaddafi era to a close.

Ma’ariv, Tel Aviv, Israel (Independent), April 18, 1986: It may be just coincidence that on the day U.S. planes attacked targets in Libya, the foreign ministers of Syria and Libya went to Tehran for a meeting to plan intensification of anti-U.S. terrorism to be carried out in various places in the West by one of the extremist organizations under the control of Libya, Syria, or Iran.

The Economist, London, England (newsmagazine), April 26, 1986: The chasm that has opened between Europe and the U.S. over the bombing of Libya – three quarters of Americans think it right, two thirds of Europeans think it wrong – is so wide that the causes must lie deeper than any ordinary disagreement. One of the things on the European side, which Americans should not dismiss lightly, is fear. Europeans are more vulnerable to terrorism than Americans are. They have had more of it; they are closer to its Middle East command centers, their entry controls are sloppier, they have bigger pools of Arab immigrants among whom terrorists can swim.

Financial Times, London, England (Independent), April 18, 1986: In the highly charged political atmosphere created by terrorist violence, it is easy to lose sight of the long term objectives of extremist factions in the Middle East. As their principal preoccupation is the recovery of Palestine, a vital step on that road must be the weakening and eventual destruction of Israel. In the logic of their political analysts, Israel is an artificial creation that is not viable politically or economically without the financial and diplomatic crutch provided by the U.S. That crutch has to be kicked away.

Ms. Teri Schure is the founder of Worldpress.org, lectures on issues pertaining to publishing, and is a consultant in the magazine, web development and marketing industries.

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