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Why did Hillary Clinton’s Libya policy fail?

Written By | Oct 25, 2015

WASHINGTON, October 25, 2015 — The congressional Benghazi hearings were largely, as Rep. Kevin McCarthy said, a partisan effort to bring down Hillary Clinton’s polling numbers.

The Washington Times editorially lamented the manner in which the hearings were conducted:

“The committee jumped from issue to issue, devolved into bickering, that left Hillsry Clinton cackling with laughter and failed to provide a consistent and compelling assessment of what happened… The public is still in the dark… Chairman Trey Gowdy is a former federal prosecutor but his performance… hardly demonstrated that. The hearing was undisciplined in time and narrative.”

This does not mean that there no serious, unanswered questions remain concerning Clinton’s role in Benghazi or the failure of her larger policy of overthrowing Muammar Gadaffi. Clearly, there was no plan for what would come next, and the chaos we see in Libya today and the growing refugee crisis in Europe are the results.

With regard to Benghazi, where four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya were killed, a number of issues remain difficult to understand. Ambassador Christopher Stevens repeatedly told the State Department that security there was inadequate and requested additional personnel. Not only were his requests denied, but Clinton never saw them. She had delegated security concerns — even in Libya, which she joined in destabilizing — to others. The State Department’s own review of these events admits serious mistakes were made.

This key issue should not be a liberal-conservative question. Many liberals have questioned Clinton’s role, as have Republicans. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes in the New York Times,

“It remains hard to believe that Ambassador Christopher Stevens and other personnel could have been under attack at different facilities in Benghazi, Libya over a span of seven and a half hours without any nearby military bases ready and able to provide air cover. As Senator John McCain once put it on ABC, why didn’t Hillary see the cable that came to her office three weeks before the murderous siege that said the consulate in Benghazi could not withstand a coordinated attack, and where were the Department of Defense assets?”

When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Clinton why the State Department rejected repeated requests for more security, she replied, “That was left to the security professionals.” She said it wasn’t the job of a Secretary of State to be “reaching down” and making these decisions. Yet she said she takes “full responsibility,” whatever that means.

Ignored in all this is the fact that it was Secretary Clinton who led the campaign to remove Libya’s President Gaddafi. Doing so, we now know, has led to Libya’s complete collapse into violence and chaos. Evidently, Clinton moved to remove Gaddafi, who at that time posed no threat to the U.S., with no clear idea as to what would happen next. Now two separate governments battle for control of Libya. Islamists control the capital city of Tripoli and Islamic State militants are expanding their hold on cities and towns across the country.

After removing Gaddafi, Clinton also removed our footprint in Libya, even as the political and security situation deteriorated. The Obama Administration has a “very hands-off policy in Libya now,” says Bill Roggio, an editor of The Long War Journal, published by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The administration provided military assistance to overthrow the government in 2011 and has since provided nothing concrete to deal with the problems on the ground.”

The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was closed and all personnel were evacuated in July 2014. Philip Gordon, who served as White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region from 2013 until early this year, says that Libya is now in a state of disintegration, and “U.S. Intelligence officials express growing concern about the spread of Islamic State operations in Libya.”

There are unintended consequences to overthrowing governments, something that Clinton, who touts her years as Secretary of State as good preparation for the White House, seems to have forgotten. The Brookings Institution reports that the “escalating crisis in Libya has gone overlooked… Human traffickers are taking advantage of the collapse of order in Libya, sending more and more boats across the Mediterranean filled with asylum seekers and migrants desperate to reach Europe.”

Even President Obama recognizes the failure of the administration’s policy in Libya. In his U.N. General Assembly speech in September he said that the U.S. and its allies “could have and should have done more to fill the vacuum left behind” in Libya after attacking the nation with air strikes and arming rebels who ultimately killed Gaddafi in October 2011.

Hillary Clinton may think her role as Secretary of State was successful. But evidence of that success is difficult to discover. As Bill Roggio notes,

“We overthrew the regime [in Libya], jihadists take control of various areas and the country becomes a basket case. It’s amazing how we’re now playing into those narratives that feed conspiracy theories that the U.S. actually supports the overthrow of governments and then supplants them with jihadist groups. They are conspiracy theories. What is truly going on is shortsightedness in U.S. policy and a failure to understand who’s who on the ground, which groups are operating, and then a lack the political heft on the ground to get involved.”

The FBI is now engaged in a criminal probe of Clinton’s e-mails. The House committee spent a lot of time discussing these e-mails, as well as the  role played by Sidney Blumenthal.

Exactly how this helps to clarify events in Benghazi was never made clear. Whether Clinton will be indicted because of the e-mails is yet to be determined. What the committee could have done is explore why Libya was in a state of anarchy and how the policies promoted by Secretary Clinton had led to this anarchy and the growth of terrorist groups such as the one that took the lives of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues.

Hillary Clinton seems to believe that her years as Secretary of State constitute a major qualification supporting her candidacy for the presidency. If such is the case, her record at State should be carefully examined. Her role in Libya suggests that her qualifications are, in fact, overstated. Unfortunately, narrow partisanship diverted Republicans from asking about the real ongoing problems that occurred at the Clinton-run State Department.

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.