Fred Friendly on Libya? Nuclear Diplomacy vs. Regime Change


centrifuges libya.jpgWhen I was getting hooked on the public policy world, one of my on-ramps was the “Fred Friendly Seminar” series initiated decades ago by former CBS President Fred Friendly. These encounters of real world public policy hands, former and current government officials, social leaders, and others worked through simulations and decision-making scenarios on a wide variety of complex public policy challenges. (photo depicts centrifuges Libya had acquired from Pakistan; National Nuclear Security Administration)

I think we need one today that takes a look at the Libya invasion. The question few seem to be taking seriously but which is very much in the background is what the US and allied force strike against Gaddafi does to our efforts to persuade other nations to either avoid the nuclear weapons track, or once on it, coax them off.
Gaddafi gave up his efforts to build a nuclear weapon stockpile in Libya in return for other commitments from the West. He invited IAEA inspectors in to do unfettered inspections — and this has been an enormously important benchmark of success for President Obama’s broad efforts to restore a nuclear weapons-resistant global commons.
But now, because of humanitarian considerations, the US and allies have essentially invaded Libya. As Vice President Joe Biden said, when a leader commits acts of mass violence against his own people, that country and leader forfeit their sovereignty, or so many argue.
But Libya is only one of many possible countries that may take up nuclear weapons as a security measure. Nations that have nukes don’t tend to get invaded. Look at North Korea.
Iran’s own probable nuclear weapons appetite seems clearly tied to its fears about regime change machinations from other countries.
It’s very hard for me to see how the US and the West succeed down the road in getting any totalitarian country with nukes to give them up — particularly after seducing Gaddafi to do so and then invading the country.
That’s not to say that the humanitarian intervention was wrong. I understand and sympathize with the President’s impulse.
But this doesn’t make the question any less legitimate and important. What is the higher priority? Proliferation of nuclear weapons or humanitarian assistance and protection.
It’s terrible when such choices have to be made, but that does seem to be the fork in the road that we came to on Libya — and we decided to forfeit what President Obama was working to achieve in rebuilding greater global allergies to nuclear and other wmd weapons.
This would make perhaps a vital Fred Friendly Seminar.
— Steve Clemons


13 comments on “Fred Friendly on Libya? Nuclear Diplomacy vs. Regime Change

  1. questions says:

    On analyzing the improbable but still possible:
    This article lays out very nicely how we deal with events.
    “A person believing in the


  2. ... says:
    at 47 seconds obama tells us manning is guilty… whew, glad i got that from obama.. anyone else and i would have questioned it..
    thanks for the posts here from everyone…


  3. DonS says:

    OT, but related to earlier discussion of Bradley Manning and Obama’s off the wall declaration of his “guilt”, FDL relates a similar mess up by Richard Nixon.
    “So, in the case of Barack Obama


  4. JohnH says:

    As DonS said, “The 99% of the nation that holds it’s economic fate in their hands, and brokerage accounts, are the only ones who really matter.”
    But they’re not willing to pay for all these pointless, expensive wars. Once they’ve gutted the incomes of the middle class and reduced their tax burden to zero, who will be left to pay for all these adventures?
    Spain had a constant flow of gold and silver from the new world when they behaved this way. At some point, America’s credit lines abroad will run out.


  5. DonS says:

    Erichwwk, DBK et al,
    Responding to some of the underlying themes that have circulated tis morning on TWN, I can certainly share the sense of doom you two have highlighted. Not the least of which is Obama’s cavalier, scary really, performance in reflecting on Bradley Maning, and the assumption of guilt beore trial. Maybe Obama didn’t feel the need to be more precise in his use of language, after all, Manning is one of the little people, who are disposable and held in contempt by the plutocrats.
    Which brings me to Eric’s response to me; “It seems to me you are assuming you are part of “the Nation”.
    “I believe “the Nation” that SB 223 is referring to consists of only the top 1% of Americans as measured by wealth accumulation. This group has confiscated 80% of all income produced in the last 25 years and claimed it as their own.”
    Indeed, it is ironic that so many of us still make the false assumption that we belong to a segment of “the Nation” that matters. Nothing could be further from the truth it seems.
    The 99% of the nation that holds it’s economic fate in their hands, and brokerage accounts, are the only ones who really matter.
    I’m reminded of those public figures who speak respectfully about the plutocrats and captains of industry; how they (including Obama, who said it of Blankfein) intone, as if by rote, “I don’t begrudge them their wealth”, as if any big wig is really, even comparatively, worth the vast millions, even billions they control. The notion that Obama is too much in their camp seems obvious.
    Reminds me of the juxtaposition of community organizer and international mover and shaker Eric references with regard to Obama. I spent a few years in the community organizing sphere (until I got promoted to a purely voluntary gig with VISTA, ha ha), and can relate to the monetary comparison involved. Being a ‘community organizer’, of course makes no one a saint. But, on a strictly monetary basis I can say without too much negativity, I do begrudge the plutocrats their disproportionate fortunes. There is no way one can comprehend such disproportion, basically built of unearned income, without understanding that such wealth is accumulated at the expense of the other 99% of the population, directly or indirectly.
    Though it’s not surprising that we have become a nation that worships fame, power and wealth — that’s the design that serves plutocrats longevity — it is nonetheless disturbing.
    For anyone, particularly a president, supposedly of all the people, to let the phrase “I don’t begrudge them their wealth” roll so easily from his lips when talking about the obscenely, regressively wealthy, indicates to me that the rest of us, to the extent that we have any faith left in this system, are pathetic fools.
    Incredible as it seems, standing up for a more equitable distribution of wealth isn’t spoken of in polite company; probably a holdover from the communist boogey man days. Matched only by the apparently limitless greed of the plutocratic class.


  6. erichwwk says:

    Tank Man wrote:
    “The House of Saud and House of Obama have done far more to squelch the Arab Revolution than the tin-pot dictators they support”
    well said.
    Fear and loathing in the House of Saud
    By Pepe Escobar


  7. Tank Man says:

    “Secondly, it’s more than overdue for President Obama to go on Al Jazeera. It’s practically an absurd embarrassment at this point that everyone has been relying on Al Jazeera’s excellent, widespread coverage and analysis of the Arab revolutions and yet the US President continues a soft boycott of the network.”
    I couldn’t wait for you to open the comments on your last post. SC, seriously? Al Jazeera did a great job on Egypt, but their coverage has been highly selective and absolutely shameful on Bahrain.
    The House of Saad and House of Obama have done far more to squelch the Arab Revolution than the tin-pot dictators they support.


  8. erichwwk says:

    “When the President does it, it is not illegal” is pretty well established legal precedent.This seems to extend to his designated agents. Any one of us can be thrown in jail indefinitely w/o charges, or disappeared. That’s how it is in America today. Maybe you though it couldn’t happen here?
    I’m sorry that so many people were fooled as to who Obama is.
    By Obama’s own admission (true, it would be an understatement to say he was truthful in describing it)
    he worked for the Business International Corporation (the forerunner of the Economist, the free market CIA front) shilling for globalization and usurpation of foreign resources for the benefit of the few. I assert it is not possible to be President of the United States without approval of the CIA – where the real power of the banks and US governance lies. Check out Russ Baker for CIA roots of former Presidents. It’s OK, even Bill Moyer’s state’s on the back cover of one of Russ’s books: “A lot of us look to Russ to tell us what we don’t know.”
    google Obama Business International and fill in what Obama skimmed over in pages 135-136 in “Dreams of My Father” when he merely mentions:
    “Eventually,a consulting house to multinational corporations agreed to hire me as a research assistant.”
    The previous sentence, previous paragraph:
    “Organizers didn’t make any money; their poverty is their integrity.”
    Clearly Obama chose money and power over integrity. There are plenty of co-workers from that period willing to verify that.


  9. davidt says:

    Not sure what you’re proposing. If a totalitarian regime gives
    up such a nuclear program, in a Clemons administration that
    would provide them with a blank check to behave as they
    wish going forward? There is indeed a dilemma. Wonder if a
    regime like Quaddaffi’s may not be viewed as especially
    instructive for most other regimes. However not sure why
    one needs to ignore nuance and suggest that there may be
    limits on regime countermeasures when the years of
    oppression are finally rebelled against. Doesn’t just have to
    do with humanitarianism but with the implications of ruthlessly
    crushing years of pent-up anger and repression that has
    finally found a targeted outlet.
    A quote from our vp that you’re critical of? A first for
    everything :).


  10. AIMS says:

    Peace Caravan: MISSING. Soldiers surrendered, executed and mutilated. A question of central banks?. Arms supplies. Cluster bombs. Algeria “base attack?. See:


  11. DakotabornKansan says:

    Exactly, how will the US and the West succeed down the road in getting any totalitarian country with nukes to give them up — particularly after seducing Gaddafi to do so and then invading the country and targeting him with drones?
    And questions about our Imperial President


  12. JohnH says:

    Actually, “The question few seem to be taking seriously but which is very much in the background is what the US and allied force strike against Gaddafi does to our efforts to”…reign in government spending.
    Obama’s nuclear disarmament charade was unmasked when he refused to allow Iran to purchase fuel for its medical reactor (TNRC). Now every country knows that its supply of nuclear fuel can be held hostage to the political agenda of the nuclear powers. Any country that wants to use nuclear power for electricity must swear fealty to the big powers or develop its own enrichment capabilities.


  13. erichwwk says:

    Nice to see Steve back on track on important, substantive issues, and over novel, but meaningful, approaches to solving important problems.
    Kudos for recognizing that incentives for obtaining nuclear weapons are important.
    I must, however, disagree in the strongest possible terms with the statement:
    “we decided to forfeit what President Obama was achieving on rebuilding global resistance on nuclear weapons.”
    While in fairness to Steve, he is never explicit in specifying exactly what Obama’s nuclear weapons policy and goal is. Thus he never stated that he was building resistance towards nuclear disarmament (despite the fact that Obama himself did)- only that OTHER countries disarm.
    The core issue in nuclear disarmament is whether US nuclear weapons supremacy is to be retained at the same time OTHER countries are to give up THEIR nuclear weapons. To those nuclear weapons abolitionists (I am one, while I assert most who appear to be nuclear weapons abolitionists are not) that see the real problem with nuclear weapons is NOT “other countries” but the refusal of the US to give up its nuclear weapons (and retain “full spectrum dominance”).
    The larger problem in terms of incentives to retain nuclear weapons by nuclear weapons essentially boils down to whether or not the US insists on DOMINANCE, an issue for which the better metric than warheads (START actually increases that, but that’s another story) is the “in place capacity to manufacture weapons on short notice”. Unloading weapons and investing in reloading capabilities and ammunition replacement to more than offset is an empty and meaningless disarmament policy.
    The only folks that don’t seem to understand this is the American public, swallowing the NNSA, and DOE propaganda that Obama has a “nuclear weapons disarmament policy”. He does not. The marketed START and related statements is mere theater, to give cover to what is in fact a massive nuclear weapons buildup. Open your eyes and see what is occurring on the ground, and not the nonsense passing as “truth”.
    As Nukewatch NM states in their “Follow the Money: Doe Nuclear Weapons Budget, 1989-2020”, THAT is no disarmament story:
    Come out to NM and see for yourself.


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