Former defense secretary Gates: Hillary 'played it by ear' on Libyan war aftermath
The media narrative that describes the actions of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after the ouster of Libyan stronman Moammar Gaddafi holds her harmless for the massive confusion and chaos. But former defense secretary Robert Gates accuses Clinton of failing to plan for what followed the Gaddafi regime.
"Smart power," indeed,
As then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who opposed the U.S. intervention, frustratingly explained to The Daily Beast: “We were playing it by ear.”
And the consequences of that improvisation are still being felt today. The country is an epicenter of the refugee crisis sweeping the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. Part of Libya is under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. And the Russians use the U.S.-NATO intervention in Libya to justify their own military incursions in places like Syria.
But to Clinton, Libya was—and still remains—a major achievement. “We came, we saw, he died,” she crowed in October 2011. “Smart power at its best” is how Clinton described it during the most recent Democratic debate.
Clinton campaign aides note that she spent months working with the Libyan parliament to craft a successful state in both the run-up to American intervention and afterward, all while honoring a Libyan request for limited Western intervention. Above all else, the aides stress, the United States had a moral obligation to act in Libya.
“The alternative was so bleak, we simply had to take action,” one aide to the Clinton campaign told The Daily Beast.
President Obama, however, didn’t see things quite that way. He was reportedly reluctant about the operation—until Clinton, Rice, and Power swayed him, over Gates’s objections. “Clinton won the bureaucratic battle to use DOD [Department of Defense] resources to achieve what’s essentially the State Department’s objective,” Steve Clemons, then an analyst with the administration-friendly New America Foundation, told Foreign Policy at the time.
According to Gates, Obama told his advisers that he was 51/49 in favor of intervening. The ratio is telling. According to the New York Times Magazine, Obama was 55/45 about conducting the May 2011 raid that eventually killed Osama bin Laden.
And when Obama finally agreed to the operation, he stressed “Operation Odyssey Dawn” would be a limited effort to protect civilians from a possible genocide by the Libyan government. Removing Gaddafi was the last thing he wanted to do.
Of course, that's exactly what happened. When it looked as though the Libyan civil war was in stalemate, the U.S. expanded its air operations to support the ground assault of rebels. An unknown number of civilians were killed as a result – exactly the opposite of our reason for intervening in the first place.
But to get rid of Gaddafi without a viable plan to replace him – and then pretend there was – is typical of the "leading from behind" that has characterized the president's foreign policy since he entered office. From Iraq, to Syria to Afghanistan, and in places like Yemen and Nigeria, where the U.S. is assisting in anti-terrorism operations, the president's failures are legion.
Those failures should be Hillary's failures as well. But the media is of no mind to alter the narrative in order to tell the truth. Until they are, Clinton's tenure as secretary of state will be seen as an asset to her campaign rather than the liability it surely should be.