The failures of liberal internationalism meets the New York Times’ liberal hypocrisy on interventionism, in an enormous front-page Sunday story on Hillary Clinton’s decision to bomb Libya, and the catastrophic results. But left out of the thousands of words: How the New York Times itself aggressively pushed war in Libya hard on its news pages, while boasting that the Obama Administration was beloved and its troops greeted like liberators.
“The Libya Gamble,” by Jo Becker and Scott Shane was posted as a two-parter, the first part headlined: “Clinton, ‘Smart Power, and a Dictator’s Fall – Her Winning Argument And Its Consequences”: “The president was wary. The secretary of state was persuasive. But the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi left Libya a failed state and a terrorist haven.”
National Review found it a “Devastating Picture of Hillary’s Clinton’s Foreign-Policy Incompetence.” David French writes:
In spite of more than a decade of bitter experience with tribal divisions, charlatan foreign politicians, and the persistence of jihadist ideology, Clinton is remarkably gullible. The report describes her attempts to vet Libyan opposition leaders prior to pushing hard for Libyan intervention, and it’s as if she learned absolutely nothing from Iraq. She was swayed by opposition politicians who said all the right things and answered her questions skillfully but had absolutely zero real-world power to deliver. It’s almost as if the principal lesson she learned from the transitional government in Iraq was that it failed because she wasn’t the talent scout.
It also seems there are plenty of voices in the Obama White House not on team Hillary, as her “Mission Accomplished”-style triumphalism after the death of Libyan dictator Moamar Ghaddafi “prompted eye-rolling at the White House and the Pentagon.”
Becker and Shane describe the aftermath of a fateful meeting between Clinton and Libyan opposition leaders:
Her conviction would be critical in persuading Mr. Obama to join allies in bombing Colonel Qaddafi’s forces. In fact, Mr. Obama’s defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, would later say that in a “51-49” decision, it was Mrs. Clinton’s support that put the ambivalent president over the line.
The consequences would be more far-reaching than anyone imagined, leaving Libya a failed state and a terrorist haven, a place where the direst answers to Mrs. Clinton’s questions have come to pass.
The Times trope of a “rush to war” (falsely hurled during the Iraq conflict) made a more justified appearance:
Libya’s descent into chaos began with a rushed decision to go to war, made in what one top official called a “shadow of uncertainty” as to Colonel Qaddafi’s intentions. The mission inexorably evolved even as Mrs. Clinton foresaw some of the hazards of toppling another Middle Eastern strongman. She pressed for a secret American program that
....on Aug. 22, the cumulative efforts of the international coalition bore fruit when exuberant rebels stormed the Qaddafi compound in Tripoli. The dictator was still at large, but his reign was over.
Mrs. Clinton’s old friend and political adviser, Sidney Blumenthal, who regularly emailed her political advice and vaguely sourced intelligence reports on Libya, urged her to capitalize on the dictator’s fall.
“Brava!” Mr. Blumenthal exclaimed. As always, he was thinking about Mrs. Clinton’s presidential ambitions. “You must go on camera. You must establish yourself in the historical record at this moment.” She should be sure to use the phrase “successful strategy,” he wrote. “You are vindicated.”
But things begin to fall apart in Part 2, “A New Libya, With ‘Very Little Time Left.’”
Two days before [Colonel Qaddafi’s capture and killing in October 2011] Mrs. Clinton had taken a triumphal tour of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and for weeks top aides had been circulating a “ticktock” that described her starring role in the events that had led to this moment. The timeline, her top policy aide, Jake Sullivan, wrote, demonstrated Mrs. Clinton’s “leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s Libya policy from start to finish.” The memo’s language put her at the center of everything: “HRC announces … HRC directs … HRC travels … HRC engages,” it read.
It was a brag sheet for a cabinet member eyeing a presidential race, and the Clinton team’s eagerness to claim credit for her prompted eye-rolling at the White House and the Pentagon. Some joked that to hear her aides tell it, she had practically called in the airstrikes herself.
But there were plenty of signs that the triumph would be short-lived, that the vacuum left by Colonel Qaddafi’s death invited violence and division.
This part must have really stung -- Libya compared to Iraq:
“In a sense it was lost from the beginning,” said Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States and an early advocate of the intervention. “It was the same mistake you made in Iraq. You organize elections in a country with no experience of compromise or political parties. So you have an election, and you think that everything is solved. But eventually tribal realities come back to haunt the country.”
But the Times was as assertive as any warmongering neo-con as the bombing over Libya unfolded in 2011. In “Hugs From Libyans” from March 2011, reliably dovish columnist Nicholas Kristof bragged that Americans (to coin a phrase) were being greeted as liberators.
Unfortunately, the public wasn’t on board. The Times, which had fiercely opposed Bush’s intervention in Iraq, had the gall to blame information “overload,” “compassion fatigue,” and the NCAA basketball tournament” in a condescending report by Kirk Johnson. No soon-to-be-justified fears of mission creep, questions about exit strategies, and concerns about the wisdom of choosing sides in a civil war pierced Johnson’s bubble -- any opposition was either based on sheer ignorance or lack of compassion for innocent Libyans.
Back in May 2011, Rod Nordland found Libyans in rebel stronghold Benghazi (!) just loved the Obama administration: "In the Capital of Rebel Libya, Shouts Of Thanks to America and the West." Among the gushing lines, the likes of which never glimpsed in the Times after Iraqis initially greeted U.S. troops in 2003: “Americans and, for that matter, all Westerners are treated hereabouts with a warmth and gratitude rarely seen in any Muslim country -- even those with 100,000 American troops -- in probably half a century or more.”
And in August, reporters Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Myers even speculated that “U.S. Tactics in Libya May Be a Model for Other Efforts.” Let’s all hope not.