Saturday, October 17, 2015

As Libya descends into terrorist chaos, Clinton stands by her war

Timothy P. Carney@TPCarney

October 15, 2015 | Washington Examiner

The 2011 U.S. invasion of Libya was an illegal, ill-considered war, poorly executed and yielding disastrous consequences, including the empowerment of the Islamic State. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was an architect of the war and of its aftermath, and she is an unrelenting apologist for it.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign town hall meeting in Keene, New Hampshire October 16, 2015. Reuters

Clinton had a chance in the first Democratic presidential debate to admit mistakes in her decision to push for U.S. war in Libya. Instead, she firmly defended the attack and the quick withdrawal, calling it “smart power at its best.” She was explicit: “I think President Obama made the right decision at the time.”

And Hillary was the most important person behind Obama’s decision.

Hillary’s War,” a Washington Post headline called it in October 2011. Clinton’s emails from her time at State show her central role in planning the war. Clinton foreign policy aide Jake Sullivan wrote in August 2011 of Clinton’s “leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s Libya policy from start to finish.”

Sullivan’s memo lists off more than a dozen ways Clinton brought about the invasion and shaped it. According to the memo, she “coordinate[d] efforts to protect civilians and plan for post-[Moammar Gadhafi] Libya.”

But post-Gadhafi Libya has been a disaster — for Libyans, for the region, and for U.S. interests. The Obama-Clinton plan for Libya was always a drive-by war. President Obama said in 2012, that their aim was always “to cabin our commitment.” Washington Post editors in 2014 correctly criticized the Obama-Clinton team for “swiftly exit[ing] without making a serious effort to help Libyans establish security and build a new political order.”

Learn more:
America's opportunity in Libya

“Libya is in a state of meltdown,” renowned journalist John Lee Anderson wrote in the New Yorker in August. “[The Islamic State] is advancing amid a low-level civil war … Benghazi is a war zone, where militias loyal to both governments, as well as jihadists, battle daily. Large swatches of the city have been destroyed, and hundreds of civilians have died in the fighting.”

Libya’s “lawless regions provide an ideal haven for al Qaeda affiliates and fellow travelers,” wrote Eli Lake in 2014.

“Libya’s government,” wrote CNN last year, “has been unable to impose its authority over a myriad of militia groups that have grown in power and influence since the 2011 revolution that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.”

Learn more:
Clinton cuts Rice loose on Libya

This week, a rebel group — or an alternative government in Libya, depending on how you cut it — kidnapped hundreds of Tunisians at gunpoint. “Tunisia,” the International Business Times reported this week, “has become increasingly entwined in Libya’s chaotic civil war, which has left a power vacuum that terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and al Qaeda have been only too eager to fill.”

The Clinton-Obama mistake was twofold: Strategically, it was a mistake to intervene in Libya’s 2011 civil war. Morally, it was indefensible to plan, all along, to do so and then cut and run. Colin Powell famously invoked a pottery-store rule with Iraq: You Break It, You Buy It.

Learn more:
Clinton’s legacy: Libya or Syria?

Obama and Clinton broke Libya and walked out of the store.

Even now, Clinton won’t admit it was a mistake. She says she believes the administration did the right thing.

She was wrong and remains wrong — disastrously so.

Learn more:
Confused US policy to blame for Libya's muddle

The terrible consequences of her drive-by war also weren’t unforeseeable. Senior administration officials — most notably Defense Secretary Robert Gates — warned against intervention. The U.S. had recent experience in how the toppling of dictators in the Muslim world can create as many problems as it solves. Hillary had suffered politically from her support for the Iraq War, but the only lesson she seemed to learn was to not hang around for the costly nation-building part of regime change.

This insistence on a light presence on the ground is part of the reason Americans at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi in 2012 were sitting ducks. Also, the power vacuum Obama and Clinton created empowered terrorist group Ansar al Sharia, which was involved in the Benghazi attack. More weapons were available for extremists because of the civil war we aided.

Learn more:
Justice for Libya

Hillary Clinton wouldn’t represent an Obama third term in all respects, but it seems in foreign policy she would. When we look upon the devastation and chaos of Libya today, that prospect should frighten us.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner’s senior political columnist, can be contacted at His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on


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