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The Bush administration made the right call on Libya

Elliott Abrams makes the case that interests trump values:

Our annual human rights reports told the truth, but there was no question that the Bush administration (and the Obama administration that followed) felt limited by Gadhafi's adherence to the bargain. We had not promised to be silent about human rights abuses, and we were not, but there was no real energy behind our statements. We were doing business with Gadhafi, not trying to overthrow him. The fate of Fathi Eljahmi, one of Libya's most prominent dissidents, was symbolic: Bush and Obama administration pressure was insufficient to free him from prison until just before his death in 2009.

Seen from this bloody February of 2011, the agreement with Libya was still the right policy. Gadhafi in his bunker with control over missiles, chemical weapons and a rudimentary nuclear program is a terrifying thought. So is a Libya after regime collapse with those materials available to the highest bidder.

Had we renegedâ??taken Libya's weaponry but then started a campaign against Gadhafi's ruleâ??he'd have re-armed fast and gone back to terrorism. It's also not clear what more strenuous and public efforts to promote change in Libya would have achieved. It's not as if one could reason with Gadhafi.

These trade-offs aren't easy, but as I wrote earlier, I think the Bush administration made the right call. But this raises a number of questions. First, around the same time that Gaddafi was negotiating to give up his nuclear program, the Iranians sent feelers to the Bush administration regarding talks - feelers that were spurned. But wouldn't a similar "half a loaf" outcome with Iran (if it were possible) be better than the current stalemate?

And if the Obama administration had the opportunity to get a half a loaf solution to the Iranian nuclear program, would Abrams hail that as clear-eyed diplomacy or a capitulation?