This must have been humiliating. P.J. Crowley had to climb down today from his recent remarks about Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, in which the State Department spokesman said that Qaddafi's speech before the U.N. General Assembly amounted to "lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense." Crowley was responding to Qaddafi's threat to declare a "jihad" against Switzerland for arresting his son, but chose to go off script.
Turns out the Libyans were not happy about Crowley's remarks, and threatened to retaliate against U.S. oil companies seeking to do business in Libya.
From today's press briefing, here's Crowley:
I want to clarify the U.S. position regarding Libya. We are strongly committed to the bilateral U.S.-Libyan relationship, and Secretary Clinton has asked Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman to travel to Tripoli next week for a series of bilateral consultations.
Regarding the personal comments I made last week, I want to provide some context. I responded to a question regarding use of the term “jihad” in the context of relations between Libya and Switzerland. I should have focused solely on our concern about the term “jihad,” which has since been clarified by the Libyan Government. I understand that my personal comments were perceived as a personal attack on the president. As I made clear to Libyan Ambassador Ali Aujali when Assistant Secretary Feltman and I called upon him in his office on Friday, these comments do not reflect U.S. policy and were not intended to offend. I apologize if they were taken that way. I regret that my comments have become an obstacle to further progress in our bilateral relationship.
It should be noted that "progress" in ties between Libya and the United States has been pretty slow and spotty since the two countries began normalizing relations. As I reported last week, Libya experts are pretty skeptical that the country can really change -- and the reason boils down to Qaddafi, whose mercurial rule has left Libya with basically no functioning institutions. Nor is it necessarily the case that U.S. companies are desperate to do business in Libya, given the political risks. And I'd say those risks just went up.