In 2003, the Western view of Libyas autocratic president was much the same as it is now: a dangerously unstable tyrant who slaughters his own people. But late that year, Moammar Gaddafi sent a secret message to a British diplomat saying he was ready to change. He wanted to come in from the cold, said a former senior aide to President George W Bush who worked in the White House when the request came in. Within months, the Bush administration was actively furthering a U.S. and British diplomatic courtship of the Libyan leader that had begun under President Bill Clinton. With substantial U.S. backing, Gaddafi publicly abandoned his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2004 and later renounced his support for terrorist groups, a dramatic turnabout that was rewarded with full U.S. diplomatic recognition. Yet while the reforms succeeded in ending Gaddafis status as an international pariah, Libyan promises of political reform never materialized. Now, after this weeks violent crackdown on protesters in Tripoli, human rights groups and some Libyan opposition leaders are asking whether the United States was duped in 2003 into propping up one of the worlds most repressive regimes. In hindsight, the deal struck with Gaddafi did little to help ordinary Libyans, said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington research institute. We rehabilitated a cruel dictator in the interest of securing American policy gains, Miller said. Though the policy change had its merits, it was a devils bargain because we essentially said, 'If you support our policies on war and peace, well give you a pass on human rights, Miller said. Others argue that Libyans would likely be no better off today if the deal had not been struck, and indeed, by almost every measure, the perils facing the region would be far worse. His nuclear program would still be intact and even further developed, and he would have his missiles and chemical weapons to use as he wishes, said Elliott Abrams, a former foreign policy adviser to both Bush and President Ronald Reagan. Rejecting Gaddafis overture would have left the West without any levers for influencing Libyan behavior, he added. It would be saying to him, 'You go on making nuclear weapons and supporting terrorists, and well just make speeches about human rights, Abrams said. The deal exemplified Gaddafis ability to command international attention, in part because of Libyas oil resources, but also because Gaddafi pursued advanced weapons, supported terrorist groups and put himself forward as the leader of an entire continent. Abrams, who in 2003 was the top Middle East adviser to the Bush administrations National Security Council, acknowledged that White House demands for Libyan political reform were muted, despite the intense pressure applied by the administration on other Middle Eastern governments to allow greater political freedom. Washington Post