Clinton, Libya and the dangerous morals of Western leaders

Clinton, Libya and the dangerous morals of Western leaders
4 min read
03 Mar, 2016
Hillary Clinton is edging closer to becoming the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. It's time her hawkish foreign policy record is taken seriously.
Recent revelations claim clinton was central to the US' Libya war [AFP]
While some US political observers have started to imagine how a Trump-Clinton election race might unfold, many others have been fixated by further revelations about the secretary of state's centrality in the US' Libya war.

This follows a recent two-part report published by The New York Times entitled "The Libya Gamble Part I & II". It documented the statements of over 50 officials from the US, Libya and Europe relating to the former first lady's role decision to topple Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Amongst those interviewed was former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who claimed that Clinton was instrumental in turning President Barack Obama to the hawkish side regarding intervention in Libya.

"I've always thought that Hillary's support for the broader mission in Libya put the president on the 51 side of the line for a more aggressive approach," Gates told The Times.
 
This refers to the "51-49 split" in the Oval Office when making a decision.

Also contributing to the report was a former aide of then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said that Clinton was "bullish" and "tough" with France's leader during a lunch meeting a day before key talks were due to take place on the Libyan crisis.

Whilst casting Clinton as central to the US action in Libya, the Times' report frames the secretary of state's firm support for war within a pressing moral dilemma. It references US guilt over the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war.

The "pragmatist", and "unrelenting inquisitor", that is Hillary Clinton, was faced with "a new opportunity to support the historic change that had just swept out the leaders of its neighbours Egypt and Tunisia".

She's very careful and reflective. But when the choice is between action and inaction, and you've got risks in either direction, which you often do, she'd rather be caught trying.
- Ann-Marie Slaughter, Clinton's director of policy planning


Despite the Times' apologetic and defensive tone towards Clinton, what has become clear to many is the presidential hopeful's hawkish attitude towards foreign policy, coupled with an adventurous streak that has resulted in actions like the US bombardment, and subsequent mishandling, of Libya.

"She's very careful and reflective," said Ann-Marie Slaughter, Clinton's director of policy planning at the State Department.

"But when the choice is between action and inaction, and you've got risks in either direction, which you often do, she'd rather be caught trying."

The release of secret audio recordings in 2015, however, exposed how Pentagon officials had gone to great lengths to negotiate a diplomatic settlement with the Gaddafi regime rather than launching military intervention, as Clinton wanted, that could lead to his overthrow.

The recordings revealed how Clinton's insistence on closing all communications with the Gaddafi regime led to shutting down ceasefire talks between the slain dictator's son Seif and the US government's joint chiefs of staff.

Even after intermediaries in Libya indicated that the Gadaffi regime was open to ending violent hostilities, it appears that the Clinton-led State Department was not interested.

"Everything I am getting from the State Department is that they do not care about being part of this," a Pentagon intelligence official explained at the time.

"Secretary Clinton does not want to negotiate at all," he added.

Even after intermediaries in Libya indicated that the Gadaffi regime was open to ending violent hostilities, it appears that the Clinton-led State Department was not interested.

In light of this, the Times' attempt at clouding Clinton's militarism behind a smokescreen of moral dilemmas born from her "deep belief in America's power to do good in the world" is far from convincing.

Clinton's stubborn insistence on military intervention over dialogue was certainly a key contributor to the power vacuum that now exists in Libya with the country now crawling with extremist groups of all stripes.

Even if, as the Times seems to insist, the current secretary of state's foreign policy outlook is driven by some deep sense of moral responsibility, one need only to reflect back on where the high-minded arrogance of past Western leaders has led us to today.

Many will recall how Tony Blair's doctrine of the international community provided the moral framework for US-UK reckless foreign adventures, and how George W. Bush's moral "crusade" led him and his pals into Iraq.

With Libya now ravaged by chaos and host to pockets of Islamic State group fighters, the last thing that the country, and indeed the region needs, is another Western leader hell-bent on pursuing a destructive militaristic foreign policy at all costs.

The impact of US involvement in Libya's collapse cannot be understated.

As the Clinton campaign edges ever-closer to her being US president, many should now begin to ask where else the former first lady's conscience might lead the US military to get involved in, and what new foreign policy adventures Clinton would push forward as commander-in-chief.