Hillary Clinton and the decision to intervene in Libya

Hillary Clinton has been working full-time to control the story of her time as Secretary of State. That was the point of her clunky, largely unread book, and the point of her awkward, gaffe-laden book tour.

Clinton argues (plausibly) that she wanted a more activist approach to Syria than that served up by her boss. She argues (implausibly) that she wasn’t really sold on the “reset” with Russia.

As to Libya, Clinton’s priority must be to duck, to the extent possible, the political fallout from the killing of our ambassador and three other Americans by terrorists in Benghazi.

But what about the larger policy that led to Benghazi — our decision to engage militarily on behalf of the rebels in Libya? Juxtaposed not only with the Benghazi killings but also our embarrassing evacuation and abandonment of the United States Embassy in Tripoli, that decision raises key questions for Clinton.

The main questions are: (1) where did she stand on the question of intervening in Libya’s civil war and (2) what was her larger strategic vision for Libya.

Joseph Miller — the pen name for a high ranking Defense Department official — provides answers. According to Miller, writing in the Daily Caller, Clinton led the charge to intervene in Libya, but lacked any strategic plan beyond making sure that no bloodbath occurred for which she could be blamed.

As to the decision to intervene, Miller writes:

From the onset of the Libyan civil war, both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency determined that there was no discernible U.S. national security interest in Libya. Accordingly, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and then-Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta advised against U.S. military intervention in Libya. . . .

At the time, their collective advice did not fall on deaf ears as, by all accounts, Obama was also not keen to take military action. However, it has been well documented that the president was swayed by then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-Special Assistant to the President Samantha Power to do just that.

Clinton argued passionately in favor of military intervention to prevent additional civilian casualties at the hands of Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, describes his failure to intervene in the Rwanda genocide as the lowest moment of his presidency.

Bearing that in mind, Secretary Clinton did not want a similar event to occur on her watch as secretary of state, because she intended to run for the presidency in 2016 and didn’t want to give her challengers any ammunition to use against her. So, she decided to push for action despite the advice against doing so by her colleagues at CIA and the Pentagon.

Intervening in Libya might have been a defensible course of action if the U.S. had a sound plan for what would happen after the rebels succeeded. Having pushed for intervention, Clinton had a duty to formulate such a plan. According to Miller, she presented none:

Clinton’s State Department lacked a plan, and remained woefully underprepared and under-resourced, to assist the post-Gadhafi government in Libya with either nation- or state-building.

This is incredible, as Democrats have spent the last 10 years lambasting the former Bush administration for failing to have a post-invasion plan for Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Only in this case, it is even more [incredible] because both Obama and Clinton had the hindsight of the failures of Iraq. . . .

Why did Clinton insist on intervening, yet fail to offer a follow-up plan? Miller explains:

So long as the U.S. military prevented further civilian casualties, the failure of the overall U.S. policy in Libya would be someone else’s fault, as she knew her time in the administration was rapidly coming to a close as she prepared for her almost-certain presidential run.

This is speculation, of course. But it’s difficult to discern a better explanation.

Clinton’s gambit would have worked for her politically had it not been for the Benghazi attacks. I can’t think of a clearer case of chickens coming home to roost.

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