Were the nation not transfixed by the Republican mud wrestling match, we would all have been poring over the New York Times report about Hillary Clinton’s handling of Libya policy. Links here and here.
In a long, detailed and extensively reported story the Times presents Hillary Clinton as well-informed and engaged, but more interested in posturing than in leading. Her well-meaning efforts have produced to a debacle of monumental proportions. It quotes Colin Powell's dictum: You break it; you own it. In the case of Libya the Times makes clear that Hillary owns it.
The Times remains reasonably objective about Clinton. It allows the resulting events to speak for themselves. And the inescapable judgment is that Hillary Clinton, however many briefing books she read, however many good questions she asked, was in it for the bravado. She was showboating and grandstanding… trying to burnish her credentials as a macho warrior. When it came to the potential consequences, she had nary a clue.
With the Times being fair and balanced in its presentation of Hillary Clinton, the facts, not rhetorical flourishes, tell the story.
It tells us everything we need to know about the leadership skills of Hillary Clinton. It tells us that she liked to pretend that she was in charge, that she liked to pretend that she knew what she was doing but that she did not have a clue.
The Times reports:
This is the story of how a woman whose Senate vote for the Iraq war may have doomed her first presidential campaign nonetheless doubled down and pushed for military action in another Muslim country. As she once again seeks the White House, campaigning in part on her experience as the nation’s chief diplomat, an examination of the intervention she championed shows her at what was arguably her moment of greatest influence as secretary of state. It is a working portrait rich with evidence of what kind of president she might be, and especially of her expansive approach to the signal foreign-policy conundrum of today: whether, when and how the United States should wield its military power in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Hillary did not know it, but she had been sold a bill of goods by the men who thought they were going to lead the new Libya. Perhaps they believed what they were telling her. The facts were otherwise. She may have read all of the briefing books, but she did not know enough to make an independent judgment. It’s what happens when you send someone who lacks relevant experience to deal with a complex situation that eludes her grasp:
Only after Colonel Qaddafi fell and what one American diplomat called “the endorphins of revolution” faded did it become clear that Libya’s new leaders were unequal to the task of unifying the country, and that the elections Mrs. Clinton and President Obama pointed to as proof of success only deepened Libya’s divisions.
Now Libya, with a population smaller than that of Tennessee, poses an outsize security threat to the region and beyond, calling into question whether the intervention prevented a humanitarian catastrophe or merely helped create one of a different kind.
Thanks to Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice—aka the weird sisters—the Obama foreign policy has adopted the principle that it should always intervene whenever and wherever necessary to stop genocide. It is, dare we say, a noble principle. And yet noble humanitarian principles, as we learned from Angela Merkel, do not necessarily lead to happy endings.
In Libya, Hillary Clinton saw Qaddafi’s troops advancing on Benghazi. She believed that once they arrived they would start slaughtering civilians. The French government had been convinced by a philosopher that it could not stand by. It was preparing to act. Clinton persuaded Obama to join the effort, in what was called “leading from behind.” Unfortunately, as the Times points out, her efforts merely produced a different kind of “humanitarian catastrophe.”
To assess the consequences, one does well, as the Times says, to follow the weapons:
The looting of Colonel Qaddafi’s vast weapons arsenals during the intervention has fed the Syrian civil war, empowered terrorist and criminal groups from Nigeria to Sinai, and destabilized Mali, where Islamist militants stormed a Radisson hotel in November and killed 20 people.
The failed Libya policy also contributed to the refugee crisis in Europe:
A growing trade in humans has sent a quarter-million refugees north across the Mediterranean, with hundreds drowning en route. A civil war in Libya has left the country with two rival governments, cities in ruins and more than 4,000 dead.
And, Libya has proved to be fertile ground for the Islamic State to expand its reach:
Amid that fighting, the Islamic State has built its most important outpost on the Libyan shore, a redoubt to fall back upon as it is bombed in Syria and Iraq. With the Pentagon saying the Islamic State’s fast-growing force now numbers between 5,000 and 6,500 fighters, some of Mr. Obama’s top national security aides are pressing for a second American military intervention in Libya. On Feb. 19, American warplanes hunting a Tunisian militant bombed an Islamic State training camp in western Libya, killing at least 41 people.
But Hillary seemed more to be interested in Hillary. She felt a need to show herself to be a conquering hero, a macho man, a commanding general. She was less interested in managing the situation on the ground.
The Times describes her as supremely arrogant, too full of herself to assess the situation and to manage it effectively. She was more interested in photo-ops than in implementing a policy:
But Hillary Clinton seemed impatient for a conclusion to the multinational military intervention she had done so much to organize, and in a rare unguarded moment, she dropped her reserve.
“We came, we saw, he died!” she exclaimed.
Two days before, Mrs. Clinton had taken a triumphal tour of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and for weeks top aides had been circulating a “ticktock” that described her starring role in the events that had led to this moment. The timeline, her top policy aide, Jake Sullivan, wrote, demonstrated Mrs. Clinton’s “leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s Libya policy from start to finish.” The memo’s language put her at the center of everything: “HRC announces … HRC directs … HRC travels … HRC engages,” it read.
Of course, she ignored the signs of pending doom:
But there were plenty of signs that the triumph would be short-lived, that the vacuum left by Colonel Qaddafi’s death invited violence and division.
In short, the well-intentioned men who now nominally ran Libya were relying on “luck, tribal discipline and the ‘gentle character’ of the Libyan people” for a peaceful future. “We will continue to push on this,” he wrote.
Where was Hillary? According to the Times, she had become a bystander at events that she had helped unleash and had no idea how to deal with:
And Mrs. Clinton would be mostly a bystander as the country dissolved into chaos, leading to a civil war that would destabilize the region, fueling the refugee crisis in Europe and allowing the Islamic State to establish a Libyan haven that the United States is now desperately trying to contain.
The Times has done some an excellent investigation here. It shows an amateurish Hillary Clinton pretending to be in charge and not having any idea of what she was doing. One word that does not pop into mind is: presidential.