Though Hillary Clinton has repeatedly confessed that her vote to approve the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was a "mistake," rival presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is now highlighting her influential role in the decision to overthrow Libya's government in 2011 is strong evidence she learned little about the chaos sowed by western military interventions in foreign lands.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian published on Friday, Sanders criticized the former secretary of state for carelessly fomenting the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi while failing to take responsibility for the destruction that ensued.
"Regime change without worrying about what happens the day after you get rid of the dictator does not make a lot of sense," Sanders told the British newspaper.
"I voted against the war in Iraq ... Secretary Clinton voted for that war. She was proud to have been involved in regime change in Libya, with Gaddafi, without worrying, I think, about what happened the day after and the kind of instability and the rise of Isis that we have seen in Libya."
Watch the full interview:
Following the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya in 2011 that led to Gaddafi's ouster, and his subsequent brutal death at the hands of rebel forces, Clinton infamously stated with a smile, "We came, we saw, he died."
However, critics of that invasion have been outspoken in arguing that western leaders like Clinton should be held to account for how Libya—like Iraq before it—rapidly descended into violent and bloody chaos following Gaddafi's violent overthrow. As Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war advocacy group CodePink, wrote earlier this fall:
Clinton, it seems, failed to learn anything after supporting the disastrous Iraq War, which plunged a huge swath of the Middle East into chaos and cost her the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Instead of embracing diplomacy, she continued to champion ill-conceived military interventions as secretary of state.
In 2011, when the Arab Spring came to Libya, Clinton was the Obama administration’s most forceful advocate for intervening to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. She even out-hawked Robert Gates, the Pentagon chief first appointed by George W. Bush who was less than enthusiastic about going to war in Libya.
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Ironically, the political grief Clinton has suffered over the subsequent attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, might never have occurred if Clinton had opted against intervening in Libya’s civil war.
Though some political observers may regard Sanders' decision to highlight Clinton's foreign policy failures as a negative attack on the current national frontrunner, others will certainly see the criticism as a legitimate and important issue for potential Democratic primary voters to consider. As the Guardian reports:
Many of his supporters have become frustrated at what they see as a reticence by Sanders to attack Clinton’s record directly, particularly after he appeared to be a reluctant participant in foreign policy discussions that dominated the second debate, held in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.
Since then, the 2016 presidential campaign has become overwhelmed with national security questions. Republicans have competed to sound toughest, Ted Cruz vowing that he would “carpet bomb” Isis jihadis. Clinton has delivered three hawkish speeches in a month on the need for more intervention in Iraq and Syria, the need to stand “taller and stronger” against terrorism and the need for Silicon Valley companies to police internet access to thwart jihadi recruiters.
Though initially reluctant to let foreign policy distract from what he considers a more important domestic agenda, the Sanders campaign increasingly sees his opponent’s hawkishness as an opportunity for him to turn Saturday’s debate in New Hampshire into a clash on the best way of achieving lasting national security.
For foreign policy experts like Yale University's David Bromwich, Clinton's rivals—both Sanders and former Gov. Martin O'Malley—have missed critical opportunities to lambaste Clinton's (not to mention the Republican Party's) terrible record on the use of American military power in recent decades.
Following the second Democratic debate last month, Bromwich slammed Sanders and O'Malley for not adequately challenging Clinton when she championed the U.S. bombing of Libya as a model of successful intervention. "The fact that neither candidate opposing Clinton in the primaries had a word to say about any of this—that they were comprehensively uninformed about the NATO action in Libya and its aftermath—points to an enduring weakness in the disposition and political temper of almost all Democratic politicians of any note," he said.
The problem with too many Democratic candidates, he continued, is that they "don't consider foreign policy to be their business. They arrive at the subject late, short of facts and slogans compared to the Republicans, and lacking in any critical sharpness."
The result of that terrible habit, Bromwich argues, is that top-tier Democrats ultimately end up espoousing "vaguer, slower, thinner versions of policies urged by Republicans." And until candidates like Sanders, he concluded, "recognize that foreign policy sets the limits of domestic policy, they will never compete with the exigent reasons a party for war can manufacture with the greatest of ease. A halfway intelligent U.S. policy toward the Middle East and Israel won't be possible until this larger political imbalance is corrected."
Though it is not known whether or not the Sanders' campaign ever read such a critique, it appears they are beginning to agree with such advice.