One year ago, United States land and carrier-based warplanes swooped down out of the night sky over Libya to deliver the ultimate American response to terrorism. Today, US officials say the controversial air strike has had its effect on the behavior of Libya's inscrutable leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi.
``I think it's had a very chilling effect,'' a senior Reagan administration official told reporters last week. ``Libyan terrorist activity has been reduced substantially since our bombing. Qaddafi at a minimum is more circumspect in terrorist activity.''
But if the threat of Libyan terrorism has diminished, other factors are at work as well:
Economic troubles have forced Colonel Qaddafi to concentrate on domestic issues. With the collapse of oil prices, Libya's yearly oil revenues have dropped from $22 billion to $5 billion in just seven years. The belt tightening has produced economic hardship and food lines and has reduced European business ties with Libya. Qaddafi now has less time and fewer resources to create trouble abroad.
Military setbacks have diminished Qaddafi's stature at home. The rout of Libya's occupation forces in neighboring Chad has left 3,000 Libyan soldiers dead or wounded. Recent publicized defections of Libyan Air Force personnel to Egypt, prompted by the war in Chad, may signal serious unrest within Libya's military.
``Chad reinforces [Qaddafi's] sense of isolation,'' says William H. Lewis, a Midlle East specialist at George Washington University. ``He's clearly no longer the popular figure at home he once was.''
``Qaddafi could explain away the US raid as an attack by an imperialist power,'' adds Lisa Anderson of Columbia University. ``In contrast, it will be much harder to justify the defeat in Chad, even given the fact that Chad was supplied by the US and France.''