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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's influence in the catastrophic decision to overthrow the Libyan government in 2011, and the proven consequences—civil war in the nation itself and the opening of an Islamist pipeline from Libya to Syria and beyond—has been largely ignored, not least of all by her Democratic rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. (Photo: AP)

Hillary Clinton's Libya

David Bromwich

 by Huffington Post

Some of the better-informed commentators on the recent terrorist attacks by ISIS have noticed the reassertion of the 2002-2003 understanding of the Middle East: that all-out war is the only sensible policy and Israel is our most faithful ally in the region. It is an opportunist line, and it is being pushed hardest by opportunists on the far right. But a proper tally of the ideological culprits who have never been held to account should make special reference to Hillary Clinton's actions in Libya. In the Democratic debate on November 14, Clinton got away with saying this unchallenged:

CLINTON: Well, we did have a plan, and I think it's fair to say that of all of the Arab leaders, Gaddafi probably had more blood on his hands of Americans than anybody else. And when he moved on his own people, threatening a massacre, genocide, the Europeans and the Arabs, our allies and partners, did ask for American help and we provided it. And we didn't put a single boot on the ground, and Gaddafi was deposed. The Libyans turned out for one of the most successful, fairest elections that any Arab country has had. They elected moderate leaders. Now, there has been a lot of turmoil and trouble as they have tried to deal with these radical elements which you find in this arc of instability, from north Africa to Afghanistan. And it is imperative that we do more not only to help our friends and partners protect themselves and protect our own homeland, but also to work to try to deal with this arc of instability, which does have a lot of impact on what happens in a country like Libya.

In response, Martin O'Malley said that Libya was "a mess" and Bernie Sanders said that Iraq had produced half a million PTSD casualties among Americans who served there. Neither showed the slightest indication of having mastered what happened in Libya: the centrality of Clinton's influence in the catastrophic decision to overthrow the government, and the proven consequences—civil war in Libya itself and the opening of an Islamist pipeline from Libya to Syria and beyond.

Specifically, her misstatements ought to have been corrected along these lines: Gaddafi didn't have "more blood on his hands of Americans than anybody else," unless you discount the Saudi support for Al Qaeda. He did not threaten "genocide," no matter how slack your definition of genocide. He threatened to kill the rebels in Benghazi; the threat was dismissed by US army intelligence as improbable and poorly sourced. But Hillary Clinton overrode US intelligence, outmaneuvered the Pentagon (the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, had opposed the NATO bombing unreservedly), mobilized liberal-humanitarian and conservative pro-war opinion in the media, and talked Obama into committing the US to effect regime change in a third Middle East country.

Gaddafi was not "deposed." He was tortured and murdered, very likely by Islamists allied with NATO forces. The "radical elements" that are causing "a lot of turmoil and trouble" in "this arc of instability" are, in fact, Islamists whom Clinton picked as allies in the region, and she has pressed to supply them with arms in Syria as well as Libya. She really rates mention as an American mover of the "instability" in the region second only to Bush and Cheney.

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. 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: they defend vaguer, slower, thinner versions of policies urged by Republicans. Until they 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 US policy toward the Middle East and Israel won't be possible until this larger political imbalance is corrected.

© 2021 Huffington Post
David Bromwich

David Bromwich

David Bromwich is editor of a selection of Edmund Burke’s speeches, "On Empire, Liberty, and Reform," and co-editor of the Yale University Press edition of John Stuart Mill’s "On Liberty."  He writes regularly for the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Huffington Post.

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