College of Arts and Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)


Kevin E. Grimm


Libya, Terrorism, US Counterterrorism Policy, El Dorado Canyon, Reagan, Qadhafi, Coercive Diplomacy




On Tuesday morning, 11 September 2001, the United States was attacked by a small terrorist cell from a group called al-Qaeda. On that day, the United States was at war with terror. However, this was not the first time the United States dealt with terrorism. Thomas Jefferson sent a fleet of warships from the fledgling US Navy and a contingent of US Marines to deal with the Barbary Pirates operating on the "shores of Tripoli," the terrorists of the day. It is interesting that another president, Ronald Reagan, also sent a contingent of US Air Force and US Navy aircraft to deal with terrorists sheltering in Tripoli and Benghazi in response to a Libyan-sponsored attack on a West Berlin disco. This dissertation will answer several questions. How effective was the bombing in deterring Libyan support of terrorism? What led to US retaliation? What were the three pillars of US counterterrorism policy? The second pillar of US counterterrorism policy will be spotlighted throughout this dissertation. This dissertation will argue that the 1986 American bombing of Libya was effective in deterring the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi's support for terrorism for the short term. This dissertation will argue that the 1986 bombing of Libya (Operation El Dorado Canyon) was a coercive diplomacy exercise, which is designed to persuade the target to abide by the rules. Two policy options will be discussed: coercive diplomacy and decapitation operations. Decapitation operations is a very new concept within academia. It is essentially an operation to eliminate the leader of a state or an organization such as a terrorist or insurgent group. Decapitation operations are meant to disrupt the activities of such groups or cause their disintegration. Operation El Dorado Canyon failed as a decapitation operation because Qadhafi survived the airstrikes. However, the US government had banned assassination since the Ford administration and Reagan continued that ban; therefore, Operation El Dorado Canyon was not a decapitation operation.

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