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The Libyan War and Clinton’s “Smart Power”

Conor Friedersdorf reviews [1] the damage done by the Libyan intervention and its aftermath, and marvels at Hillary Clinton’s defense of it in last night’s debate. He reminds that she was instrumental in making the intervention happen and that she proudly boasts about this role even now:

Clinton is hardly alone in bearing blame for Libya. But she was among the biggest champions of the intervention. As one of her closest advisors once put it in an email, “HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings—as well as the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya. She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around Qadhafi and his regime.” She stands behind her course of action even today. More than that, she calls it “smart power at its best”!

If the Libyan war is “smart power at its best,” that just proves that the concept is nonsense. There was nothing remotely clever or intelligent about the way that U.S. and allied power was used in Libya four years ago. The Libyan war grew out of a typical Western knee-jerk overreaction to a foreign conflict that led to a predictably short-sighted application of military power that in turn made a bad situation worse. The president once claimed to be against “dumb wars” and “rash wars,” and then ordered the U.S. to lead one that was both of those things. That Clinton continues to celebrate the Libyan war as some sort of model of the kind of foreign policy she thinks the U.S. should conduct just underscores how horrible her judgment on these issues is.

Judged by its effect on the security interests of the U.S. and our allies, the U.S./NATO intervention in Libya has been nothing but harmful. Jihadists have made gains that they could not have made prior to the overthrow of the old government, and the regime’s weapon caches have helped to fuel armed groups across North and West Africa and beyond [2]. Having warned against the danger of a “Somalia on the Mediterranean,” so-called “humanitarian” interventionists proceeded to guarantee that outcome. When judged by its consequences for the security of Libya’s neighbors, the intervention has ranged from destructive to disastrous.

Though it is now entirely forgotten, Mali suffered from a revived Tuareg insurgency aided by pro-regime mercenaries returning home, the empowerment of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), a military coup against its democratic but ineffectual government, and eventually outside military intervention to combat the forces that the Libyan war helped to strengthen. While Mali is now starting to recover somewhat, it continues to suffer [3] from the effects of these upheavals. Boko Haram in Nigeria has been one of the other beneficiaries [4] of the weapons bonanza that regime change in Libya created. Though the Libyan war did not cause the conflicts in these other countries, the “success” of U.S.-led intervention contributed to making these existing conflicts worse. By any objective standard, Libya itself is also worse off today than it was prior to regime change. The resulting upheaval there has undermined the security of surrounding countries and contributed to the outpouring of refugees in the Mediterranean.

One of the more popular interventionist lines these days is to bemoan the “costs of inaction.” This treats the harm that our government does as less important than the harm done by other governments that ours “fails” to prevent. It also presupposes that the U.S. has it within its power to prevent the damage done by conflicts that it has “failed” to police as aggressively as hawks would like. Reviewing the full and ongoing costs of direct U.S. action in Libya should be a reminder to us that the U.S. doesn’t know how to limit and contain foreign conflicts and usually causes much more harm than good in the attempt. The Libyan war is another cautionary tale that interventionists in both parties are very enthusiastic to help wreck other countries in the name of “saving” them, but they consistently fail to think through what happens after the initial goal of regime change is achieved. The same pattern is being repeated in the Syria debate this year, and if the next administration is stupid enough to follow through on the campaign rhetoric we’re hearing it will produce the same ghastly results.

Hawks also like to distract attention from the harm done to the region affected by so-called “humanitarian” intervention and prefer to emphasize the relatively small price that the U.S. had to pay in intervening. Clinton was keen to point out last night that no Americans died in combat in Libya, because she calculates that the public doesn’t care about a foreign policy disaster that costs only people in other countries their lives. But when the U.S. is not as aggressive in responding to a conflict as they would like, the same hawks ignore the fact that the “costs of inaction” for the U.S. are nil and instead point to the harm done by a war that they would like the U.S. to escalate and make worse.

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9 Comments To "The Libyan War and Clinton’s “Smart Power”"

#1 Comment By RI Redd On October 14, 2015 @ 7:57 pm

“Smart power” turned Libya into one of the chief funnels for the current wave of African refugees and migrants flooding into Europe. That tidal wave may well combine with the one from the Middle East to tear apart the EU.

This awful woman may think it was “smart” to effectively destabilize our oldest and best allies, but sane, decent people disagree, and they tend to vote.

#2 Comment By Davebo On October 14, 2015 @ 9:54 pm

” Clinton was keen to point out last night that no Americans died in combat in Libya, because she calculates that the public doesn’t care about a foreign policy disaster that costs only people in other countries their lives.”

You have to admit it’s a remarkably astute observation Daniel. One could argue she’s running in the wrong primary.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 14, 2015 @ 10:44 pm

The public will care when they start demanding that the US take in some several hundred thousand refugees.

I had to rebuff the notion as presented to me last night as to Iraqis. But make no mistake, the US can be directly held responsible for the homeless and that should resonate with one’s conscience. In my view while we are responsible, the demand we take refugees is not the answer. But that upon hearing should make US citizens reconsider the intervention and its consequences.

#4 Comment By JohnG On October 15, 2015 @ 12:35 am

Smart power indeed, with waves of refugees giving perhaps a decisive boost to FN, which is pretty much in tune with Putin on all major international issues and openly anti-American.

Sadly, when we start to lose Europe, country by country, very few will connect that with HRC, Cheney, and other imbeciles and their conception of what “smart” is.

As tragic and criminal everything listed here is, the wider global implications are simply catastrophic. North African lives may not matter to (most of) us (yet) but what is going on is certainly starting to matter across Europe, Africa, and Asia. And that will for sure end up mattering to us, the only question is how long it will take our political and media “elites” to finally realize it.

#5 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On October 15, 2015 @ 8:37 am

Correct on all points!! A pity this was not explored in any detail in the recent “debate”.

#6 Comment By Santa Monican On October 15, 2015 @ 10:57 am

She figured she couldn’t straight out lie about it, as she has done so many times in the past.

So she’s banking on the ignorance of the typical Clinton voter. On the fact that a Clinton voter doesn’t know that her Libya policy destabilized northern Africa and now threatens Europe.

And of course none of this is a problem for her donors, who resemble members of a criminal gang giving presents to the boss’s wife. All the donors care about is that after the election it will be business as usual.

#7 Comment By sglover On October 15, 2015 @ 11:22 am

This awful woman may think it was “smart” to effectively destabilize our oldest and best allies, but sane, decent people disagree, and they tend to vote.

Wait a minute. American involvement in Libya was wrong and idiotic on every level, but for once we were followers in stupidity, not instigators. Meaning we didn’t “destabilize our oldest and best allies”. (By the way, the jury’s still out on that one, and will be for decades.) It was European governments that led the way in this debacle. The French and Italian governments were the most enthusiastic about this idiot’s crusade. If they ever looked a map, they should have known that they’d have refugee problems in short order.

We never should have joined this brain-dead adventure, but arguably a bigger American fault was not replaying Eisenhower’s response to the Suez crisis.

#8 Comment By Ship of Fools On October 15, 2015 @ 12:55 pm

The French and Italian governments were the most enthusiastic about this idiot’s crusade. “

And the Germans refused to take part.

As for the US role, if you present yourself as the “exceptional nation”, you’d best be not only exceptionally powerful but exceptionally wise. Our participation encouraged France and Italy in their folly, just as we now encourage and enable Saudi folly and cruelty in Yemen.

#9 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On October 15, 2015 @ 2:04 pm

In the real world, the Libyan war was a much bigger black mark on Hillary than Benghazi. The blowback has been horrific.

Problem for the GOP is: they like these interventions, and they didn’t stand up in Congress to insist on a vote on Libya. So it’s easier for them to whine about Benghazi, which was a sideshow except for the families of the four dead guys, than to attack the policy. Too much self-examination required, which will never do.