McCain: ‘I Was Noncommittal’ On Helping Qaddafi Get Military Equipment

McCain Shaking Hands with Qaddafi in 2009

In an interview with Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he never pledged to help now-deposed Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi get military equipment. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks recalled a 2009 meeting McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) held with Qaddafi’s son and national security adviser Muatassim. “McCain assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs,” the cable said, adding that McCain “pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress.” At another point in the meeting, according to the cable, Graham and McCain both restated the pledge to help.

Speaking with Rogin, however, McCain had a different recollection of the exchange:

“[Qaddafi] asked me, ‘Well, we’d like to get our C-130 upgrades.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s what you want,’ but I was noncommittal,” McCain said. “I said, ‘I understand that’s your need,’ but I never said anything and I never did a single thing to follow up.”

McCain blamed the U.S. embassy in Libya, which never cleared the account with the Congressional delegation, for the mix-up: “At that time, the embassy was very interested in having a relationship with Qaddafi, but I can’t imagine why that diplomat said the things they said. It’s beyond me.” The author of the memo was the top U.S. diplomatic official in Libya, Joan Polaschik. McCain called the charge made in the cable “outrageous” and said helping Qaddafi to get military equipment “would have been ridiculous.”