During a heated Democratic debate in New York on Thursday night, Hillary Clinton sought to both defend and deflect responsibility for her central role in destabilizing Libya—by blaming President Barack Obama.
"The decision was the president's," she said in response to criticism from rival Bernie Sanders over her leadership as then-Secretary of State during the 2011 military intervention to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
"Did I do due diligence? Did I talk to everybody I could talk to? Did I visit every capitol and then report back to the president? Yes, I did. That's what every secretary of state does," Clinton said. "But at the end of the day, those are the decisions that are made by the president to in any way use American military power, and the president made that decision, and yes, we did try without success because of the Libyans' obstruction to our efforts, but we did try and will continue to try to help the Libyan people."
The remarks come just days after Obama admitted in an interview with Fox News that "failing to plan for the day after" Gaddafi's toppling was the "worst mistake" of his presidency.
In a previous debate, Clinton said the president had made "the right decision at the time" and blamed the instability that followed on the Arab Spring and "a lot of other things."
The contrast in perspectives was quickly noted by observers, who also pointed out that Clinton's seeming blame of the president comes after she criticized Sanders for his disapproval of Obama's policies.
Hillary Clinton used Obama's name 45x in last nites #DemDebate except when she refused 2 accept her failed policy in Libya as he has
— GAPeach (@PoliticsPeach) April 15, 2016
— LP (@Mango_in_atl) April 15, 2016
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— Annette M. Rodríguez (@Alacranita) April 15, 2016
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) April 15, 2016
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) April 15, 2016
Sanders also questioned whether Clinton's judgment in Libya would follow in Syria.
He criticized Clinton for "getting actively involved to overthrow and bring about regime change without fully understanding what the consequence of that regime change would be.... I know you keep referring to Barack Obama all night here, but you in Syria, you in Syria talked about a no-fly zone, which the president certainly does not support, nor do I support because, a) it will cost an enormous sum of money, [and] second of all, it risks getting us sucked into perpetual warfare in that region."
Clinton responded with both another seeming criticism of Obama—and by suggesting regime change in Syria.
"Yes, when I was secretary of state, I did urge along with the Department of Defense and the CIA that we seek out, vet, and train, and arm Syrian opposition figures so that they could defend themselves against [President Bashar al] Assad. The president said no."
"I think it's only fair to look at where we are in Syria today and yes, I do still support a no-fly zone because I think we need to put in safe havens for those poor Syrians who are fleeing both Assad and ISIS and so they have some place they can be safe," she said. "Nobody stood up to Assad and removed him, and we have a far greater disaster in Syria than we are currently dealing with right now in Libya."
That comment was noticed as well.
In defense of going to war in Libya (a war w/no day after plan, as Obama conceded), Hillary says should have gone to war in Syria #demdebate
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) April 15, 2016