The new Republican SuperPAC Future45 released an ad bashing Hillary Clinton, this one focusing on the Libya disaster. Unlike the House Benghazi committee the ad sticks to the bigger, more important issue. The ad shows Clinton testifying, "I was responsible for working on the policy, both before and after the end of the Gadhafi regime." It then shows the current disastrous situation ("innocents executed, a terrorist haven, a nation in chaos").
It is not clear whether the ad is taking issue with the decision to go into Libya (however belatedly and at arm's length), the failure to stabilize the country after the fact or both. It was a close call at the time, but many conservatives agreed there was a humanitarian rationale and a geopolitical one (fear of another failed state) for U.S. action. (Others argued we should have focused on Syria instead.)
It is noteworthy, however, that the same conservatives who happened to agree with Clinton (and our European and Arab allies) warned about the failure to stabilize the situation. The Washington Post reported in June, 2011:
"A group of 37 former administration officials, academics and foreign policy figures on Monday sent a letter to House Republicans urging them not to support any legislation aimed at defunding the U.S. military mission in Libya.
"The letter, which was circulated by the Foreign Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, comes as the House is poised to consider a defense appropriations bill that may serve as a vehicle for amendments on the Libyan conflict. . . .
"In the letter, the conservatives write that they are "gravely concerned" by reports that Congress is considering defunding U.S. operations in Libya.
" 'Such a decision would be an abdication of our responsibilities as an ally and as the leader of the Western alliance,' they write. 'It would result in the perpetuation in power of a ruthless dictator who has ordered terrorist attacks on the United States in the past, has pursued nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and who can be expected to return to these activities should he survive. To cut off funding for current efforts would, in short, be profoundly contrary to American interests.'
"They also state that they share the concerns of some members of Congress regarding the way Obama has handled the Libyan mission, but argue that "the problem is not that the President has done too much … but that he has done too little to achieve the goal of removing Qaddafi from power."
" 'The United States should be leading in this effort, not trailing behind our allies," they write. "We should be doing more to help the Libyan opposition, which deserves our support. We should not be allowing ourselves to be held hostage to U.N. Security Council resolutions and irresolute allies.' "
That warning was prophetic, and ignored by the administration. Exactly as the signatories argued, the U.S. did little to ensure postwar Libya's survival and stability. Jihadists poured in, as the country became another safe haven for terrorists. And then four Americans were killed in the attack on our compound in Benghazi.
One does not have to take issue with the initial decision to deplore Clinton and the entire administration for lack of planning and follow through. From the outside it appeared the president did the bare minimum (some air strikes), turned the operation over to allies and then declared "mission accomplished" without concern for the aftermath of the war. Clinton as Secretary of State was, she acknowledges, completely responsible for the policy. In the election, then, rather than probe the minutiae of Sid Blumenthal's emails Republicans and the media should ask some hard questions:
"Knowing what you know now, was it a mistake to assist in overthrowing Qaddafi?
"You criticized the Bush administration for failure to have an adequate plan for Iraq after major hostilities ended. Did you have such a plan for Libya? What was it? Was it insufficient or was it not implemented? Why?
"What was the process for making certain Libyan policy was executed and the country did not become a haven for terrorists?
"Did you make certain the president understood we were taking on a long-term commitment?
"If we had such a plan, why was our own people's security not a top priority that required your attention? In retrospect, did you delegate too much responsibility to others?"
As I noted, the decision to go into Libya was not open and shut, but there was a clear national interest in acting. It would be a mistake for Republicans to argue we should do less in the world. Iraq and Syria showed what happens when we have no presence whatsoever. It is, however, only fair to hold the Obama-Clinton team responsible for that lack of presence, just as Democrats and the press held the Bush team responsible for its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is unfortunate that in all the Libya investigations Republicans lawmakers could not see the forest for the trees.
Moreover, those Republican blinders underscore the need for the GOP to have someone able and willing to attack Clinton --- for the right things and for the right reasons.
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