Home/Daniel Larison/How Clinton Evades Accountability for the Libyan War

How Clinton Evades Accountability for the Libyan War

Michael Brendan Dougherty reviews Clinton’s terrible record on Libya and notes that almost no one in the presidential campaign uses her support for the intervention against her. He concludes with this:

Libya is the forgotten war. Clinton should pray that nothing happens along the southern coasts and rivieras of Europe that reminds us.

We should certainly hope that the awful consequences of the Libyan war don’t include terrorist attacks in Europe, but I doubt that an attack would be tracked back to the 2011 intervention and Clinton’s support for it. We have seen since 2011 how interventionists have sought to portray the rise of ISIS as the result of the lack of a residual U.S. military presence in Iraq and insufficient meddling in Syria’s civil war. These arguments are laughably wrong, but they are widely circulated and accepted by the same people that Dougherty correctly chides for ignoring the disaster of the Libyan war. Republican hawks won’t fault the U.S. for being too aggressive or too reliant on military action, and so they would spin an attack carried out by the ISIS affiliate in Libya as proof of what “leading from behind” produces. The default hawkishness that keeps most candidates from criticizing Clinton on Libya is what would also shield her if the Libyan war’s effects included attacks in Europe. Rand Paul rightly blasts “Hillary’s war” from time to time, but he seems to be the only nationally-known politician to do this.

Recognizing the role of failed policies in making terrorist attacks more likely is vitally important in the wake of such attacks, and yet that is the time when there is the strongest opposition to doing so. Despite the fact that the Paris attacks appear to be a direct response to French bombing in Syria, there is enormous resistance to acknowledging that earlier French intervention played any role in provoking the attacks. Instead, the answer has been to retaliate with more bombing. Even though the destruction of the Russian Metrojet airliner seems as straightforward a case of blowback from foreign intervention as one could find, this doesn’t appear to have done much damage to Putin at home and has done nothing to make Moscow rethink its mistake of intervening. Intervention can provoke a terrorist attack, or it can destroy a foreign government and let terrorist groups to operate freely, but only in rare cases (e.g., Spain in 2004) are the people responsible for the intervention held accountable politically by their own voters.

Clinton ought to be held accountable for the Libyan war debacle, but Dougherty has already explained very well why she isn’t going to be. The Republicans that have the greatest incentive to use her support for the war to discredit her are prevented by their ideology from doing so, and her challenger from the left doesn’t care about foreign policy. The Libyan war should be seen as a huge black mark on Clinton’s foreign policy record, but she is able to escape scrutiny because in Washington there is never any real accountability for foreign policy blunders and there is usually overwhelming indifference to the consequences of our destructive policies. When those consequences become impossible to ignore, they are then blamed on vague “inaction” or non-existent “retreat” rather than be linked to the policies that led to them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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