Hillary Clinton likes to have her cake and eat it too, and in few cases is her hypocrisy more manifest than on the question of Libya.
Clinton’s political opponents have focused on the Benghazi scandal as if it is an Achilles’ heel for the former secretary of state. But the reality is that the decisions made to lie about Benghazi, while agreed to by Clinton, were the president’s.
It was he who was up for re-election and sought to downplay the resurgence of al-Qaida, his team that sent a hapless United Nations ambassador to talk shows to further a variety of lies — not Clinton.
But on the larger question of Libya’s fate, Clinton bears much greater responsibility. And the disaster that is now Libya, with the concomitant loss of control of borders and a massive refugee influx from North Africa, lies at least in part at her feet.
Think this through carefully: The former secretary of state, unlike Obama, enjoys a reputation for a certain hawkishness.
It was she — along with the then secretary of defense and director of central intelligence – who recommended arming Syrian rebels. It was she who advocated for action in Libya.
The problem is that while preening her hawkish feathers, Clinton appears loath to own the problems that have sprung from the policies she once pushed.
Here’s what Clinton said on the question of Libya:
“The United States and our international partners are also proud of our own contributions. When (former Libyan Prime Minster Muammar) Gaddafi threatened Benghazi, we assembled an unprecedented coalition that included NATO and Arab countries, and acted quickly to prevent a massacre. We sought and won local, regional and international support, including the backing of the U.N. and the Arab League. And after deploying our unique military capabilities at the outset, the United States played a key role in a genuinely shared effort as our allies stepped up. As time went on, our coalition grew even stronger.”
Well, yes. But then what happened? Did the Department of State step in to stabilize Libya when terrorists began to take over? Did the Department of State work to shore up the Libyan government of which Clinton was so proud? Did the Department of State step in to own the spiraling terrorism problem of which Benghazi was only a part? No!
It is one thing to stand for freedom, and many have commended the likely Democratic presidential nominee for her guts and her principle. It is another, as so many learned after the war in Iraq, to do the hard work of stabilizing a nation after the demise of a long-standing dictator.
Indeed, we can at least give credit to the George W. Bush administration for trying to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. What exactly can Clinton point to for her supposed efforts on behalf of Libya?
It is precisely in that follow up that Clinton and her successor, John Kerry, have failed so miserably. Both have claimed to have learned the lessons of Iraq, especially Clinton, who was excoriated roundly for her vote in favor of the Iraq war by former opponent Barack Obama.
And if that lesson wasn’t enough, surely the decision to remove troops from Iraq — which happened under Clinton’s tenure at Foggy Bottom — and the resulting chaos and threatened collapse of Iraq underscored that ousting a dictator requires ongoing U.S. engagement to ensure a positive outcome.
In short, Clinton will seek to reassure American voters that she is tough enough to be president, and tougher than the incumbent she once served.
But the truth is that Clinton made the easy call on Libya — to oppose a vicious dictator. But when time came for the hard call, to stick around and actually stabilize the country, she was nowhere to be found.
Danielle Pletka is senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute think tank. She is a graduate of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Readers may write her at AEI, 1150 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036.