George W. Bush will forever be blamed, at least in part, for the calamity that has become Iraq. Barack Obama will forever be blamed, at least in part, for the calamity that has become Syria. The question is … will Hillary Clinton forever be blamed, at least in part, for the calamity that has become Libya?
In the three and one half years since the U.S. participated in, or, better, led, a coalition to oust Libya’s Col. Muamaar el-Qaddafi, the country has become a dangerously failed state. Despite its huge reserves of oil, its vast financial assets, and its long coastline just across the sea from Europe, Libya has no effective government or even dominant force. This leaves it desperately vulnerable to rival coalitions, including the likes of ISIS, all of which are fighting for control, apparently to the death.
Libya has been Hillary Clinton’s Achilles Heel at least since the tragedy at Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including the Ambassador. But Benghazi was a single incident. What’s happening now in Libya, to Libya, is dreadfulness of a different magnitude entirely.
This is not the place to retrace Hillary Clinton’s steps in the decision to depose Qaddafi. However it is the place to provide a few relevant quotes from her book, Hard Choices, about being Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term.
Chapter 16 is titled, “Libya: All Necessary Measures.”
First Clinton tells us that she thought Qaddafi “one of the most eccentric, cruel, and unpredictable autocrats in the world.”
Then she writes that she began to wonder as did many of her foreign counterparts, “Was it time for the international community to go beyond humanitarian aid and sanctions and take decisive action to stop the violence in Libya?’
Next she describes some Arab states and some European ones as eager to intervene. French President Sarkozy, for example, was “gung-ho,” and the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, “pressed the case for action.”
As well, key allies within the administration, notably then UN Ambassador Susan Rice, and then National Security Council aide Samantha Power, made a strong argument “that we had a responsibility to protect civilians and prevent a massacre.”
Before long the U.S. again was intervening – the attack against the Libyan government was on. Although, Clinton writes, “the military campaign in Libya lasted longer than any of us had hoped or expected,” in the end it was seen at the time as successful. By late summer of 2011, “the rebels had pushed back the regime’s forces. They captured Tripoli… and Qaddafi and his family fled into the desert.”
I am not writing to indict. I am writing to point out that any number of Democrats, along with any number of Republicans, mistakenly thought that deposing a dictator from without would solve an admittedly agonizing problem. I am writing to point out that though the buck stopped with Obama, his first secretary of state played a particularly prominent role in America’s decision to take military action in Libya. I am writing to point out that if we’re in the business of blaming for related mistakes, there’s no excuse for excluding from the accused Hillary Clinton.