In the 1980s, I was an unrefined adolescent from blue-collar Butler, Pennsylvania. I knew nothing and cared nothing about politics. I had no idea if I was a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, or much of anything else. But I knew one thing: Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. This was expressed in a rather unsophisticated way by the bumper-sticker affixed to my white Chevy Chevette, which declared simply and succinctly: “Kaddafi Sucks.”
Yep, Moammar Kaddafi was a bad dude. And now, three decades later, and some 40-plus years after coming to power, he is gone, dispatched to the ash-heap of history with other murderous terrorists and dictators: Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Mao Tse-Tung, Joe Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin.
I will not here add to reports of how Kaddafi met his final fate, but I would like to share a valuable piece of information that was revealed to me by Bill Clark, Ronald Reagan’s right-hand man and national security adviser when Kaddafi was ramping up in the 1980s.
It was early 1981. President Reagan had just been inaugurated. Alexandre de Marenches, the director of France’s external intelligence agency, SDECE, came to the White House with a highly sensitive plan to remove Kaddafi. The plan was to assassinate the Libyan dictator during a parade, by use of an explosive device placed near the reviewing stand. “Our answer,” said Clark, “was that we understood their feelings toward the man, but we don’t do assassinations.”
That was because there was an executive order banning assassinations, first signed by President Gerald Ford and supported by President Carter. The Reagan team had no intention of violating the order as one of the first acts of the new administration.
Intelligence sources I consulted confirmed Clark’s recollection of de Marenches’ request. “He came over to the U.S., probably in early February 1981,” said one source, a high-level CIA “operations” person. “His interlocutor was Vice President Bush. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the removal of Kaddafi. He came to try to get us involved operationally in the plan…. He wanted not just our moral or political support but to get us involved in the actual operation.”
This same source pointed to the “Safari Club,” which was a group of countries—France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and the Shah’s Iran—that had banded together for two primary purposes: 1) to fight the spread of Soviet communism in Africa; and 2) to counter Kaddafi, particularly his adventures in neighboring Chad. The group was formed by intelligence ministers in the mid-1970s, and de Marenches was its catalyst. The group was appalled by America’s unwillingness to no longer stand up to the Soviets; it was post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, Americans had elected an incredibly liberal Congress, and Jimmy Carter was president. The Club sought to fill the vacuum.
De Marenches’ offer against Kaddafi was consistent with the concerns of the Safari Club.
As an indication of the confidential nature of his overture, de Marenches did not discuss his offer to the Reagan administration in either of his 1986 and 1992 books. But he did note yet another intention to kill Kaddafi: He said that on March 1, 1978, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat had asked de Marenches for help in “disposing of him [Kaddafi] physically.”
Think of the irony here, and how tragically history unfolds: It would be Sadat who was assassinated in 1981—on October 6, 1981. He was killed at a reviewing stand at a parade, shot by Islamists for his “crime” of making peace with Israel.
While Sadat died, Kaddafi was permitted to live. Sadat made peace. Kaddafi left a trail of blood and violence.
And here’s another irony still: Just weeks after de Marenches’ offer to Reagan to assassinate Kaddafi, Reagan was shot, on March 30, 1981, and nearly bled to death.
In retrospect, should President Reagan have agreed to the French request to take out Kaddafi? A lot of innocent lives would have been spared. Terrorist attacks from Lockerbie, Scotland to the Mediterranean would have been averted.
Alas, such action by Reagan would indeed have been illegal, and was not the mission or foreign-policy plan of his incoming administration. Had Reagan started his presidency by violating an executive order on assassinations, liberals in that post-Watergate/post-Vietnam Congress would have run him out of town with impeachment papers before his historic two-term takedown of the Evil Empire could commence.
Reagan did what he could—or couldn’t.
Nonetheless, this is a very intriguing tale of what happens behind the scenes—and what might have been. The death of Kaddafi had to wait—it had to wait a long, painful 30 years. Only now, finally, this bad dude is gone.