Obama Admits Error In Libya, Denies Same Error in Iraq

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

President Barack Obama admitted that his first-term policy of minimizing U.S. forces in Libya was a failure, and he’s now arguing that U.S. interventions — including in Iraq — should be strong and long enough to help locals gradually establish reasonably stable governments.

“I think we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this,” Obama said about his 2011 campaign to remove Libya’s dictator, Moammar Gadhafi.

Without U.S. forces on the ground to help a new government establish itself, the country is being wrecked by a slow-motion civil war between competing jihadi and tribal groups. (RELATED: ISIS Threatens America: ‘We Will Raise The Flag Of Allah In The White House’)

“So that’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene, militarily? Do we have an answer [for] the day after?’” Obama told the Thomas Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times, on Aug. 8.

In 2011, Obama used the U.S. airpower to break Moammar Gadhafi’s army until rebels caught and murdered the long-time dictator.

But without any U.S. forces to manage the violence, the various tribal and jihadi rebel groups looted huge stockpiles of weapons, which were then used to start jihad wars in nearby countries, including Mali, Syria and Gaza.

The competing factions haven’t created a stable government, and the much of the country’s national airport was wrecked in July battles.

The lack of any strong government also allowed jihadi groups to launch the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in September 2012, just before the 2012 election. (RELATED: If Benghazi Was No Big Deal, Why Is The White House Worried About Another One?)

Obama cited the Libya lesson just as he began telling Americans — and his military-averse progressive base — that he is sending U.S. forces back into Iraq, to fend of a fierce attack by an al-Qaida-style jihadi army. 

The defeat of the jihadis’ so-called caliphate in northern Iraq can’t be done quickly, he told reporters Aug. 9, in a brief exchange shortly before he departed for a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. (RELATED: US Aircraft Hit Islamic State Artillery In Iraq: Pentagon)

“I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks… I think this is going to take some time [and will] be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence in,” he said. (RELATED: Yazidis At White House Plead For Weapons And Aid)

“We’re going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together [and] until we do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in some offense,” he said.

That places Obama back in the same position as President George W. Bush, who had to fight much harder than expected to protect Iraq’s new government that was elected after the 2003 removal of Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. (RELATED: John Bolton Slams Obama’s ‘Ideological Blinders’ On Worldwide Growth Of Terrorism)

From 2003 to 2008, Bush deployed large U.S. forces — at great cost to his domestic political ratings — to shield the new Iraqi government from a brutal counter-offensive by Hussein’s die-hards, Sunni tribes that despise the elected Shia-led government, and al-Qaida-affiliated jihadi suicide bombers.

That campaign was won by 2007, but Obama didn’t try to persuade Iraq’s government to let U.S. forces stay for the long term, according to a well-researched article in The New Yorker. In fact, he handed the issue off to Vice President Joe Biden, who had long championed a rapid-U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Sami al-Askari, an Iraqi member of parliament, told The New Yorker in April that “the American attitude was: Let’s get out of here as quickly as possible.”

Obama claimed the Libyan lesson that he’s applying to Iraq doesn’t apply to his decision to withdraw all ground troops from Iraq in 2011.

“Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government… [but] the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us [with legal] assurances” to protect U.S. troops from local lawsuits or criminal charge, Obama said Aug. 9.

“And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops,” he said.

However, he also took time to ridicule the charge.

“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision,” he said in his White House Aug. 9 exchange with reporters.

Leaving troops behind would not have aided the Iraqi government “if in fact the Iraqi government behaved the way it did over the last five, six years, where it failed to pass legislation that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership,” he said. “The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable.”

“So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong [but] it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.” (RELATED: Boehner Decries Obama’s ‘Absence Of A Strategy’ In Iraq)

Follow Neil on Twitter

Tags : iraq libya
Neil Munro