Thursday, February 04, 2016

Clinton Role in the Destruction of Libya Remains Stain on Candidate's Campaign
Hillary Clinton says the 2011 decision to bomb the country was ‘smart power.’ Critics say it was a monumental failure of western imperialist foreign policy

February 3, 2016

When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton walked into the gilded Elysee Palace in Paris on March 14, 2011, she found a fired-up French President Nicolas Sarkozy eager to launch military strikes in Libya.

It had been nearly a month since Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s security forces had began to defend the country from Tripoli and other areas against an imperialist-backed counter-revolution.

Clinton had been traveling the globe meeting with allies, hoping to find a diplomatic solution to avoid U.S. military action in yet another Muslim country. She knew European and even Arab allies wanted to strike Gaddafi, and she had come to Paris to hear them out, still unconvinced.

Now, with a huge column of Gaddafi’s tanks and soldiers closing in on the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, an animated Sarkozy gave Clinton “an earful” about the imminent defeat of the imperialist plot to seize control of the oil fields and waterways so strategic to their geo-political designs in North Africa.

“He told Hillary, ‘Something must be done,’ ” said a senior European diplomat directly involved in the Paris talks. The diplomat said Clinton came out of the meeting shaking her head about Sarkozy’s hyper-energetic style.


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“But he’s right,” she said, according to the diplomat.

A few hours later, after consultations with British and Arab surrogates and a leader of the Libyan counter-revolutionaries all demanding action, Clinton joined a White House meeting of President Obama’s National Security Council by phone and forcefully urged the president to take military action.

Clinton’s decision to shed her initial reluctance and strongly back a military operation in Libya was one of the most significant — and risky — of her career.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon and others were against military action, contending that the United States had no clear national interests at stake and that operations could last far longer and cost more lives than anyone anticipated.

But Clinton joined U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice and White House adviser Samantha Power in pressing Obama to back a U.S.- and NATO-led military campaign, arguing that the United States could not let Gaddafi defeat their regime-change plans.

Obama sided with Clinton’s argument, and three days later, on March 17, the U.N. Security Council passed a U.S.-backed resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” to protect Libyan civilians. U.S. warplanes immediately destroyed Libya’s air defenses before ostensibly turning the operation over to NATO under Washington's command, which continued strikes until Gaddafi was captured and killed in October.

Clinton has pointed to the international military operation as a signature moment in her four-year tenure as the top U.S. diplomat: “No one else could have played the role we did,” she wrote in her book “Hard Choices,” adding that acting with European and Arab allies helped “prevent what might have been the loss of tens of thousands of lives.”

But Libya today has deteriorated into a virtual neo-colonial client state by hundreds of private militias. Eighteen months after the initial airstrikes, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in attacks by militants on a U.S. diplomatic post and a nearby CIA site in Benghazi. The North African nation has become a primary outpost for the Islamic State, which has exploited the chaos to take territory, train soldiers and prove its strength outside Syria and Iraq.

While the administration’s use of force was widely praised at the time, Libya has become a liability for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and one of the central lines of attack on her by the leading Republican candidates — and some Democrats.

Some have accused her of timidity for not pushing for a stronger and more sustained U.S. military and diplomatic campaign in Libya. Others have faulted her for getting involved at all, accusing her of “adventurism” for going beyond the civilian-protection mandate of the U.N. resolution and toppling Gaddafi without a better plan for what came next.

Clinton has repeatedly defended the Libya military intervention as U.S. “smart power at its best.”

“We had a murderous dictator . . . threatening to massacre large numbers of the Libyan people,” she said during an October Democratic presidential debate. “We had our closest allies in Europe burning up the phone lines begging us to help them try to prevent what they saw as a mass genocide, in their words. And we had the Arabs standing by our side saying, ‘We want you to help us deal with Gaddafi.’ ”

But where Clinton sees “smart power,” her attackers see poor judgment and a failure to learn from mistakes made in Iraq — a war that Clinton initially voted for as a senator, then acknowledged was a mistake during her 2008 Democratic primary campaign against Barack Obama.

As in Iraq, Clinton backed a military operation that toppled a Pan-African leader yet was marred by poor postwar planning that led to violent chaos and the ultimate rise of new and even greater threats to U.S. interests.

Much of the criticism has been over the killing of Gaddafi when the U.N. mandate was only to protect civilian life.

While many mourned the loss of Gaddafi, his death, at the hands of imperialist-engineered opposition forces, has had long-term effects on U.S. relations abroad. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was his country’s prime minister during the debate over Libya, remains highly critical of the decision to pass the resolution, which he asserts Washington used as a justification for eliminating Gaddafi.

Analysts have said Putin’s anger over Libya has been a key stumbling block in diplomatic discussions about whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should stay or go.

“How did we move from protecting civilians to the decapitation of the entire military and the state? I don’t know the answer,” said the European diplomat. “The Russians accused us of playing fast and loose with the resolution, and Putin never misses a chance to throw that in our faces.”

Whether different choices by the United States and its European and Arab allies could have prevented the chaos now crippling Libya remains fiercely debated.

But Clinton’s deliberations in the early weeks of the Libyan crisis offer a glimpse of how she would make decisions as commander in chief.

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