Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.
On Saturday, an embarrassed United States witnessed the full realization of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s failure in Libya. Remembering her husband’s failure to halt a 1990s Rwandan genocide — and informed by her coming presidential aspirations — Clinton advised President Barack Obama to enter the United States into an untenable situation. He listened; she left; and he failed.
On Saturday, July 26, the Department of Defense facilitated the evacuation and abandonment of the United States Embassy in Tripoli, Libya amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation in that country — some two and a half years after the United States helped to overthrow that country’s government.
U.S. Marine Embassy guards, along with Marine infantry reinforcements deployed over the last month under the banner of Task Force Tripoli, drove approximately the 100 remaining U.S. Department of State personnel in an armored convoy 70 miles across the border into neighboring Tunisia under the cover of U.S. fighter aircraft.
The effects of the U.S. departure from Libya are both tangible and symbolic, and are indicative of a failed U.S. policy toward that country and the Arab Spring movement on a whole.
From the onset of the Libyan civil war, both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency determined that there was no discernible U.S. national security interest in Libya. Accordingly, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and then-Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta advised against U.S. military intervention in Libya.
Both Gates and Panetta argued that if the president intervened to protect civilians, he would establish a policy position that would require him to do so in other countries under similar circumstances — in the midst of the Arab Spring — or risk U.S. credibility abroad. The U.S. military was capable of doing the job — the question was whether or not it should be done.
Gates and Panetta further argued that this was neither wise nor prudent, given the enormity of the U.S. debt and our inability to finance such military interventions, as well as the frequency with which they would be required, given the state of affairs in the region. In light of the current situation in Libya, Syria, Iraq, etc. and the negative international response to the lack of action and leadership displayed by the Obama administration to date, it is scary to think about just how right these two men were.
At the time, their collective advice did not fall on deaf ears as, by all accounts, Obama was also not keen to take military action. However, it has been well documented that the president was swayed by then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-Special Assistant to the President Samantha Power to do just that.
Clinton argued passionately in favor of military intervention to prevent additional civilian casualties at the hands of Moammar Gadhafi’s forces. Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, describes his failure to intervene in the Rwanda genocide as the lowest moment of his presidency. Bearing that in mind, Secretary Clinton did not want a similar event to occur on her watch as secretary of state, because she intended to run for the presidency in 2016 and didn’t want to give her challengers any ammunition to use against her. So, she decided to push for action despite the advice against doing so by her colleagues at CIA and the Pentagon.