By Jay Holmes
In 1970, the last US base in Libya closed. The American troops were happy to let oil tycoon Armand Hammer work his deals without them having to hang out in a place filled with sand, heat, more sand, more heat, and little water.
Moammar had just come to power the year before, and it was obvious from the start that he would be trouble for everyone, including Libyans. But even with his highly limited brain power, he attempted vast reforms. Moammar is not very smart; however, he was smart enough to listen to the Western technocrats that he claimed he hated. Because he listened, not all of the oil cash went to his foreign banks. Surprisingly, extensive water and agricultural projects, oil and gas field development, hospital construction, and education reform did occur. He greatly improved education and opened hospitals that Westerners would cringe at, but that were, by Libyan standards, an improvement for Libyans. Moammar presented himself as the great, pan-Arab, revolutionary, Jew-crushing, west-defying, oil-price-raising Don of Dons. . . . Or would that be Caliph of Caliphs? . . . . Well, whatever.
In November, 1970, Moammar actually convinced Sudan, Syria, and Egypt to join together in one, big, happy “Arab state.” Syria and Egypt believed that they would be able to control the situation, and that they would eventually end up in charge of Libyan oil fields. Moammar, the intended victim, proved to be a step ahead of his co-conspirators, and it became apparent that he and his petro cash would be calling the shots.
The Egyptian people loudly reminded the Egyptian government that they were not Arabs. Egyptian generals frankly explained that they “had no intention of taking orders from that Bedouin Goat.” Also, Syria realized that this would not be “oil for solidarity,” but, rather, a game of Everybody Loves Momo. The show got canceled before the pilot was produced. Momo tried the same scam with Tunisia and was left standing alone at the altar in a very ugly wedding dress.
With hopes of being hired for the role of The New Prophet, Moammar quickly hopped into bed with the Soviets. And that is not a joke. Moammar did go thru an I-Am-the-New-Islamic-Prophet phase. You can just imagine how much that endeared him to the Iranian Shiites. No Shiite junta will ever trust Moammar.
The “terrorism for fun and profit” age of Libyan history began with the July, 1973 hijacking of a Japan Air flight to Libya. Moammar was kind of new to the prime-time terrorist scene and didn’t quite know what to do with the plane after his pals hijacked it. So they took it to Libya and blew it up. Unlike the Barbary pirates of 1801, they forgot to demand ransom money. Think about that. What do you make of a guy that commits a major crime and forgets to grab the cash? No cash, no political demands, just the raw fun of hijacking an airliner.
In 1973, the Irish Navy—even smaller and more ridiculous than Steven Decatur’s fleet—intercepted five tons of Russian-made arms and explosives being rowed to Northern Ireland from Libya for an IRA big shot named Joe Cahill. The Irish Navy had no US Marines. They had no British Marines. They had no Redsox fans. They only carried water pistols and a few .303 British Enfields that the UK had left in a trash bin. How did they manage that one?. . . Hmm. . . . It’s almost like they knew the Libyans were coming and when they would be there. . . . I am eternally grateful that some Russians always hated the Kremlin more than we ever did, and were often willing to talk.
In 1974, Libya signed an arms purchase agreement with the USSR. It was the largest arms sale in USSR history. (The USSR made larger arms transfers, but none that paid cash.) The modern “triangle trade” began to fuel a massive Libyan terror campaign. Instead of rum, sugar, and slaves, it was oil to the West, dollars to Libya, then dollars to the USSR for arms to Libya. The USSR got the cash it desperately needed to help fund its seriously stalled world communism gig, and Moammar the Criminal got more arms with which to create suffering
Libya then became involved in so many scams, schemes, and dramas that I cannot list them here without turning this into something more voluminous and painful than the recent Obama health care bill. Let us attempt a digestible outline.
We know Moamarr was one of the key supporters of so many European “little red revolutionaries,” as well as the hatcher of frequent, often bazaar, attacks in the West from Sweden to Australia. But we should realize that Moammar’s war with the West was nothing compared to the brutality and genocide that he promoted and pursued in Africa. Tanzania, Uganda, the Sudan, Chad, Angola, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea have all felt the loving, fatherly influence of that great liberator of the masses. Unfortunately for many thousands of them, liberation came in the form of death.
I wonder how many bewildered African children saw their families murdered before they were carted off into slavery because of this homicidal maniac? To be sure, Moammar did not invent African genocide, but he made every effort to increase it by providing more and better arms, and by using Africa’s many tribal conflicts in his sick dream of becoming the Hitler of Africa.
In January, 1979, President Jimmy Carter’s pathetic, half-wit brother, Billy, accepted at least $240,000 to act as a lobbyist for the Libyans. Allegations of additional funds changing hands were unproven, but the FBI discovered the $240,000. Billy was apparently unaware that the CIA and US Treasury were doing their best to track money from Libya entering the US in an attempt to ward off funding of terrorists in America. As events came to light, Billy quickly remembered to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Libya. Taking money to represent a foreign government without that bit of paperwork is called treason.
This was an embarrassment that, in my view, President Carter did not deserve. You can pick your president, but you can’t pick your family. . . . Or the president’s family. NATO member nations were not favorably impressed. The state department was humiliated. The Pentagon was quietly outraged. The voters were not pleased. Between Billy and the Iranian violation of the US embassy in Tehran, Ronald Reagan easily defeated Carter in the November, 1980 elections.
In 1981, the CIA and NSA both presented concrete proof that Moammar was behind terrorist bombings in France and Italy that killed Americans. Several European governments presented similar evidence to the US government. President Reagan instructed the US Military and the CIA to conduct limited operations against Libya. I always assumed that “limited” meant “try not to disrupt the oil flow.” Reagan was under pressure from NATO member states to act with restraint. In this case “restraint” meant, “whatever happens we need that oil.” The US needed the oil, and Europe needed it more desperately than the US did. The dream objective was always “more oil and no Moammar, and please be sure someone worse doesn’t take over”.
On August 19, 1981, Libya launched two SU-22s in an attempt to shoot down an unarmed US E-2 Hawkeye surveillance plane in international airspace over the Gulf of Sidra. This was the third Libyan attack on unarmed US aircraft, and this time, the US was out of patience and ready to act.
Like the Irish Navy, the Hawkeye had no US Marines or Red Sox on board. What the Hawkeye did have was two F-14 Tomcat fighters from the Navy Black Aces Squadron, tucked in a loving embrace under her big, motherly wings. The Tomcats dropped down from mama and made a turn toward the attacking Libyans.
Without the Tomcats entering Libyan air space, the Libyans obeyed orders from their ground controllers and fired their Soviet-made, air-to-air missiles at the Tomcats. The Tomcats were able to scramble the electronic control systems of the attacking missiles, and the Libyans watched their very expensive Russian missiles fall into the ocean.
The Tomcats fired on the SU-22s, and the SU-22s were helpless against the American missiles. Both SU-22s were shot down. Both Libyan pilots ejected, but one of the Russian-made ejector seats was apparently made by one of the many Russians that did not like the Kremlin. The chute failed to deploy, and the pilot died. (Naturally, Gadhafi claimed that the US Navy pilots shot him while he was in his parachute.) The Libyans scrambled two Mig 25s to join the fray. The MIG 25 pilots wisely declined to approach the US planes or the carrier task force.
Moammar realized that attacking US military forces was a bad tactic and continued to concentrate on sponsoring terrorism, instead. Libya became the great hub of Soviet Block terror training centers for everyone from Spanish ETA terrorists to Colombian M-19 junkies. Western observers marveled at how Libya sometimes played host to opposing terrorist groups that were sworn to kill each other. One group would train with gratitude for their kind host, while their opponents would do the same, miles away, on another sand dune in the vast Sahara. I always wondered if they ever crossed paths in the Tripoli airport. I always wanted to observe that socially awkward moment.
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This Special Edition Libya timeline was begun at Timeline, Part I and is continued at Timeline, Part III.