Shades of Lansdale in Libya

Diane Rehm noted in her Friday News Roundup on NPR that the current situation in Libya is very similar to the situation in Vietnam during the 1950s. Namely, that CIA operatives were on the ground in an unstable country that was of diplomatic importance to the U.S.

According to a NY Times article on March 30:

While President Obama has insisted that no American military ground troops participate in the Libyan campaign, small groups of C.I.A. operatives have been working in Libya for several weeks as part of a shadow force of Westerners that the Obama administration hopes can help bleed Colonel Qaddafi’s military, the officials said.

In 1954, the “shadow force” was a team led by C.I.A. operative Edward Lansdale. He was sent to Vietnam to create a toehold in the East for American interests, and essentially invented the country of South Vietnam. The country was of diplomatic importance to the U.S. because it was the next battlefield in the war on communism.

The reasons for American involvement in Libya are up for debate. A 2008 Congressional report noted:

“After an August 2005 visit to Libya, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman [Dick] Lugar called Libya “an important partner for [the United States] on the war against terrorism,” and indicated that he would “work constructively on the assumption that it’s in our best interest to normalize the relationship, to get an embassy there, to get an ambassador.”

Gene Cretz, former U.S. ambassador to Libya, stepped down in December 2010 in the wake of the Wikileaks scandal. It was reported that Cretz wrote critical memos of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

One thing is clear, a credible comparison can be made between U.S. concerns about communism in the fifties through seventies and current concerns about terrorism. The two are completely different beasts, but they are undoubtedly the two major foreign policy causes (read: boons) of the last 60 years.

It is said that history repeats itself. Lets hope that doesn’t apply in this case. Stay tuned, particularly on how much money the U.S. commits to the Libyan cause.

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About Daniel Fitzsimmons

Staff writer for the Manhattan weeklies Our Town, Our Town Downtown and the West Side Spirit.
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