Opinion

Don't let Hillary Clinton escape the blame for Libya's anarchy

The former secretary of state can't wash her hands of what amounts to a foreign policy disaster

American military adventurism relies on a very backward notion of causation. When evil men in the world kill their own people, somehow America is to blame for not stopping them. When American action leads directly to disorder, barbarism, and terror, well, that's someone else's fault. It's our unspoken doctrine of humanitarian anarchy.

In a more innocent time, before Jordan Spieth could legally drive, American bombs began to fall on Libya. President Obama offered the following rationale: It was to stop the oncoming violence and slaughter.

[I]f we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.

It was not in our national interest to let that happen. I refused to let that happen. And so nine days ago, after consulting the bipartisan leadership of Congress, I authorized military action to stop the killing... [White House]

In the singularly uninsightful book Hard Choices, the following words on the Libyan intervention are attributed to Hillary Clinton's authorship:

All of this — the defiant dictator, the attacks on civilians, the perilous position of the rebels — led me to consider what many of my foreign counterparts were debating: Was it time for the international community to go beyond humanitarian aid and sanctions and take decisive action to stop the violence in Libya? [Hard Choices]

Death and civil war in Libya were unacceptable outcomes for America when Moammar Gadhafi was alive. But death and civil war continue unabated, the difference being that the Islamic State is now one of the players — and somehow it's not in the American interest to stop it or to help Libyans establish some kind of law and order. The lessons of Iraq have been internalized: Once you create a total power vacuum that will attract terror gangs and radical Islamic fundamentalists, it's best to not have any boots on the ground to stop them.

Clinton's chapter on Libya ends on exactly this note, disavowing any responsibility for death and destruction from here on out:

I was worried that the challenges ahead would prove overwhelming for even the most well-meaning transitional leaders. If the new government could consolidate its authority, provide security, use oil revenues to rebuild, disarm the militias, and keep extremists out, then Libya would have a fighting chance at building a stable democracy. If not, then the country would face very difficult challenges translating the hopes of a revolution into a free, secure, and prosperous future. And, as we soon learned, not only Libyans would suffer if they failed. [Hard Choices]

That's a long comedown from her peace sign–waving braggadocio. (As Clinton had put it, "We came, we saw, he died.") But notice the causality in the above passage. Hillary strikes an appropriately "worried" tone. But if there was a failure that caused Libyan suffering, that belongs to the "well-meaning transitional leaders."

Libya now has multiple "governments" that draw massive amounts of the nation's resource wealth to themselves, creating an endless amount of make-work and no-show jobs to secure the loyalties of their clients. Libya is essentially functioning as a Mediterranean gas station, the purpose of which is to provide enough revenue to perpetuate a civil war to determine the gas station's ownership.

As per usual in this region, Sunni radicals are moving in to the power vacuum. Libya now has clerical thugs like Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani issuing fatwas against women's rights. Perceived agents of "foreign" influence, many of them workers brought in by the Gadhafi regime, are being expelled or oppressed in popular uprisings. All in all, civil war tends to be a loser for minorities, women, and children.

Juan Cole argued last month that Libya is "messy" but has an "open future." One upside of the Libyan war is that it has revealed that formerly sharp critics of George W. Bush's foreign policy, like Cole, can be just as glib as the people they hated a decade ago. Yes, Libya's future is wide open, just as a mass grave is.

Meanwhile, back home, one of the prime architects of this chaos gets the flattery of being chased by the national press, in a van that's been named after a 1970s cartoon. There are no consequences for the woman who could be the next leader of the free world. Those are reserved for well-meaning transitional leaders and their constituents.

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