The thrust of this Foreign Policy article is that Hillary and Obama at some point decided to use the Libyan intervention to bring about “regime change” and get rid of Qaddafi. The article argues that the Libyan mission began as a humanitarian attempt to save the people of Benghazi from Qaddafi’s attacks, but without publicly saying so to the public, it became an effort to remove Qaddafi. Whatever the administration’s stated purpose, its decision led to the assassination of Qaddafi in an ugly, disorderly way.
Obama has admitted in his Atlantic magazine interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that the Libyan operation was not handled well. Goldberg writes:
But Obama says today of the intervention, “It didn’t work.” The U.S., he believes, planned the Libya operation carefully—and yet the country is still a disaster….
“So we actually executed this plan as well as I could have expected: We got a UN mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion—which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess.”
From these accounts, it appears that Hillary’s mistake in Libya was not her reaction to the rebel attack on the US Embassy and CIA facility in Benghazi, but rather her failed strategic leadership in the whole Libyan fiasco. Somebody, ideally Hillary, should have said at the very beginning, “This is not going to work.” There were no government institutions to take over after Qaddafi, and the Libyan people were riven by tribal loyalties. To maintain himself in power, Qaddafi had tried to keep any challenging group from consolidating power, and he had succeeded.
Perhaps events undercut the Foreign Policy article’s thesis that at some point the administration made a conscious decision to change the mission to protect population into a mission to remove Qaddafi. Perhaps if there had been such a definite decision, the dangers of that new course of action to kill Qaddafi would have been weighed more carefully. Was the failure of the Libyan intervention due to a poor decision or to the failure to make a decision, just to go with the flow after the operation started? In any case, Hillary bears significant blame.