Yesterday’s Democratic debate saw Hillary Clinton answer for her involvement in ousting Muammar Gaddafi and the total chaos that has followed. Her response was full of spin that played down just how bad things have become in Libya since then.
When asked by reporter and moderator Martha Raddatz about how much responsibility she bears for the fact that Libya is “falling apart,” now “a haven for ISIS and jihadists,” Clinton said this:
Essentially, Clinton twice talked around Raddatz’s questions on her responsibility over what followed, and would not address whether the U.S. should have done more than offer “only a modest training effort and a very limited arms buy-back program” once Gaddafi was ousted; instead, she put the onus on the Libyans.
Clinton’s response is unfortunate, because if she is elected she may be faced with a similar and possibly more complex set of decisions in Syria.
Nearly every place where U.S.-backed regime change has occurred, it has only resulted in unintended consequences. Usually these consequences are outright instability and increased danger to the U.S. itself. Hillary Clinton, as President Obama’s Secretary of State, spearheaded one of these adventures in Libya in 2011, and the results were dismal, if not outright terrifying.
This issue does not belong to Hillary alone, far from it; it is spread across both parties. Still, she is running for President and the results of her term as Secretary of State matter. America’s long-standing idea that democracy will occur instantly at the end of a gun barrel or laser-guided bomb has been proven to be far more challenging in reality than in theory.
Usually, the result of such a strategy is the manifestation of a vacuum of power that is then filled by extremist elements and tribal, ethnic and religious infighting. There’s also no guarantee that time will solve the problem.
In Libya’s case, although a fragile agreement is in place between two rival political factions to attempt to move forward under a unity government, extremist elements have infested their country, the capital is a war zone, and ISIS controls entire cities. Additionally, Africa has experienced an explosion in Islamic extremism, which will continue to affect Libya even in the unlikely situation that ISIS and other extremist elements are rooted out.
As for stating that getting rid of Libya’s chemical weapons and attempting to contain the spread of looted shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles was an achievement, in reality these actions are hardly anything to brag about. These weapons were not a threat while Gaddafi was in power. He had come to the table to step away from weapons of mass destruction in an open manner after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and his massive stockpile of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles was just that, a secured military stockpile. After-all, at least one of the primary missions of the CIA annex in Benghazi that was attacked on September 11th, 2012 was to hunt down and buy back these deadly weapons. Thousands of these missiles remain unaccounted for.
Sure, nobody has a crystal ball that can see into the future, but eventually America needs to learn from its very costly mistakes. Namely, if you don’t know exactly who or what will come next once a dictatorship is toppled, than there is a better chance than not that civil war, an intense insurgency, rampant extremism, or a horrific cocktail of all these elements will follow.
Secretary Clinton can say that we offered much more when it came to military support to the Libyans and they did not want it, but that is simply not a mistake we can make again. The same happened in Iraq in 2011. Our vacating that country entirely allowed ISIS to blitzkrieg across it, and today they still hold much of that territory after a year and a half of constant bombardment.
With this in mind, maybe investing lives, treasure and political capital in these types of operations, just to have the stabilization efforts that follow dictated to us by questionable and very new leadership, is not something worth pursuing. After all, America’s military might can easily topple any third world government, the military part of the operation is not the challenging one; it is the political one that follows that is most perilous.
This all matters because Syria is the next place where regime change is on the docket for many. Although Assad is a horrible piece of human garbage, without knowing precisely who will succeed him, and their plans to hold and wield power in a manner that is not devastating to parts of Syria’s populous, we could just end up with an even more unstable situation that we have today in that county.
An in this case, Syria has Russia, the U.S., multiple European countries, Turkey, Jordan, Iran and Iraq, all wanting a say in the county’s future. Also wanting not just a say, but all of Syria for its own demonic purposes, is ISIS.
There has been some movement in the United Nations to figure out a political solution when it comes to Syria, but the question of removing Assad remains up in the air. Yet considering Russia has strategic port in Tartus, and has warplanes, helicopters and support forces already inside Syria, whoever succeeds Assad will have to really like the Russians in order for Russia to go along with any succession plan.
With Iran being tightly allied with Russia, and Syria being a key supporter of Iran’s Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon, you can see how a puppet government of this alliance may be the only plausible result of such an initiative.
If she is elected, hopefully Clinton will adapt her playbook when it comes to using the military to achieve future foreign policy goals, although that seems doubtful based on what we have heard from her recently. No-fly-zones, regime change, using “protecting citizens” as a vehicle to execute a full on air war, including strikes against strategic and regime targets, are rusty tools in a new age of murky warfare.
In the end, sometimes, focusing on smaller objectives and picking the lesser of two evils to deal with first, or even doing nothing at all, is a far better strategy than trying re-engineer an entire country at one time by committee.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
For all of Foxtrot Alpha’s 2016 Presidential Election coverage click here.
Top photo via AP. Debate transcript via CBS News.