Did Sidney Blumenthal encourage then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to back military action against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya? Did he do so because it was in the financial interest of his friends and sources? Did Clinton listen to him to the virtual exclusion of professional intelligence sources? And was the information about which Clinton relied false?
These questions emerge from a review of the emails from Blumenthal to Clinton that have been released over the past year.
Libya was Clinton's war. It was she who badgered the national security team to approve a no-fly zone and to ratchet up our military involvement in toppling Gadhafi. In 2011, she told the United Nations Human Rights Council that "it is time for Gadhafi to go," and she condemned Russian reluctance to intervene as "despicable."
Her intel suggested genocide was happening in Libya. As Clinton told ABC News: "Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered ... and we were sitting here. The cries would be, 'Why did the United States not do anything?' "
The Washington Times reported this year that Clinton "ultimately became the most powerful advocate for using U.S. military force to dethrone Gadhafi, both in her closed-door meetings with Mr. Obama, who ultimately made the decision, and in public with allies and the news media."
Now, emails have been released suggesting it was Blumenthal that stoked her desire to intervene and helped heighten her resolution to act. "This is an historic moment," he portentously told the secretary of State on Aug. 22, 2011, "and you will be credited for realizing it. When Qaddafi is finally removed, you should of course make a public statement before the cameras. ... You must establish yourself in the historical record at that moment."
Sidney Blumental, with no military or intelligence experience or credentials, advised that "Qaddafi's army's morale and cohesion might be conclusively shattered by another round or two of ferocious bombing."
But he was wrong. There was no genocide. The concerns of senior military leaders, including Robert Gates, then Defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were, according to The Washington Times "repeatedly cast aside."
One official from the Defense Intelligence Agency tactfully called the move to intervene in Libya "an intelligence-light decision." The Times reported that "the intelligence community gathered no specific evidence of an impending genocide in Libya in spring 2011, undercutting [Clinton's] primary argument for using the U.S. military to remove Col. Moammar Gadhafi from power."
Why did Blumenthal continue to press the point?
Investigative reporting by veteran journalist Jeff Gerth at ProPublica gives some insight into a possible reason: It may have been an attempt to help his friends get contracts from a new Libyan government.
Blumenthal was working closely with David L. Grange, a retired Army major general who ran a secret Pentagon special operations unit before retiring in 1999. Gerth reported that "Grange subsequently founded Osprey Global Solutions, a consulting firm and government contractor that offers logistics, intelligence security training, armament sales and other services." On Aug. 24, 2011, Osprey signed a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan National Transition Council the entity that took control in the wake of Gadhafi's execution agreeing that Osprey would contract with the council to "assist in the resumption of access to its assets and operations in country and train Libyan forces."
The prospect of having an in with the government of an oil-rich nation like Libya must have been enticing to Blumenthal's friends.
At the very least, this episode highlights Clinton's tendency to rely on gurus often to her detriment. In 1993 she leaned on Ira Magaziner, and healthcare reform crashed and burned. In 2008 she looked to Mark Penn and lost the election. In 2011, she relied on Blumenthal, and we entered a war we never should have fought.