One of the most appalling moments in last week’s Democratic debate came when Hillary Clinton attempted to defend the war in Libya. In case you missed it, she specifically cited the war as “smart power at its best” and declared that she and Obama made the “right decision” on Libya. Then, she dismissed the subsequent chaos as somehow unrelated to our efforts to decapitate the government there.
The Libyan intervention remains one of the most catastrophic decisions of Obama’s presidency, and Hillary’s defense of this action must be refuted. And that’s the subject of today’s post.
Of course, the whole Libya episode received relatively little coverage, then and now, so I’ll forgive if you don’t recall the details. Here’s a brief summary of the key facts surrounding our intervention:
- As part of the Arab Spring, there was a popular uprising in Libya. As with Syria, some of the rebellion was comprised of moderates and some was more extremist in nature, primarily an organization known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that had some links to al-Qaeda.
- The then-leader of Libya, Colonel Gadhafi, attempted to crack down on rebels which he called terrorists (which was somewhat legitimate given the extremist elements). US officials claimed he was on the cusp of committing genocide against the Libyan people generally, and this was used as the pretext for intervention.
- Broadly speaking, the American public was essentially ambiguous on the war in Libya at the time, but Congress was not likely to approve military action there. So Obama essentially just claimed he didn’t need it to avoid any issues. His justification for this was that Americans were in a supporting role and unlikely to be involved in hostilities.
- Eventually, a UN resolution was passed to impose a no-fly zone on Libya (coincidentally, the same thing, Hillary is proposing now for Syria), which eventually escalated to a regime change effort.
- Secret negotiations with the Ghadafi regime conducted some members of Congress and the Pentagon indicated that Colonel Ghadafi was willing to negotiate a peaceful transition of power to avoid intervention. This was not known publicly until recently, but it was communicated to Hillary and the Obama Administration prior to the intervention.
In other words, the Libyan intervention was a war of choice based on exaggerations. And given that it received no form of Congressional approval, this intervention had the added virtue of being quite plainly illegal under any reasonable interpretation of the President’s authority.
Perhaps even more important, however, is what happened afterward. And here, I’ll let Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic pick up the story. This is a longer piece, but it provides an excellent summary of the aftermath of this intervention and is certainly worth your time.
This was not smart power; this was stupid militarism.
It is bizarre that Hillary Clinton would even bother trying to defend this war, but it is also revealing. If she still sees Libya as a success story and is continuing to push for more action in Syria, is there any war she would oppose?