NBC took a critical view of the history of the Obama administration in dealing with Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi. As recently as summer of 2009, Barack Obama was shaking the hand of the dictator who is presently conducting air raids against civilians in his own cities. Hillary Clinton held a press conference to welcome Mutassim Gaddafi to Washington in order to describe just how deeply the US “valued” the relationship with the regime. Now, with Gaddafi ruthlessly attempting to suppress an insurrection, the White House has had trouble finding its footing on its response to the change:

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Let’s be honest here. While it’s an easy way to score political points at the expense of the current administration, the question of whether we should have embraced Gaddafi at all goes back to the Bush administration.  In 2004, Gaddafi made the shocking decision to voluntarily disarm his nuclear program out of fear of what George Bush might do next after pulling Saddam Hussein out of a spider hole in Iraq.  The Bush administration decided to end sanctions despite Gaddafi’s history of sponsoring terrorism, mainly as a way to entice other despots to stop pursuing nuclear weapons — especially as a signal to Iran, which turned out to be pointless anyway.

Ending sanctions and establishing diplomatic ties was supposed to show that the Bush administration wasn’t going full neocon, and that we were willing to work with regimes that were willing to work with us rather than pursue a policy of regime change backed by American military muscle throughout the region.  However, that did not necessarily mean that we needed to dance cheek to cheek with brutal dictators either.  Celebrating the arrival of Gaddafi’s son in the manner shown should have been avoided, if for no other reason than the knowledge that tyrants eventually fall and being too close to them creates problems of their own.  It also makes the end game surrounding collapsing dictatorial regimes easier for those countries that do engage diplomatically.

Update: It was Mutassim Gaddafi, not Saif al-Islam, in this clip.