A moderator for the ABC News Democratic debate on Saturday night confronted presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton over how much responsibility she should bear for the chaos the followed the ousting of former leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Martha Raddatz noted that Libya is “falling apart” and that Clinton recommended US intervention in 2011 during the Arab Spring after Qaddafi’s regime used violence against peaceful protestors.
The US then participated in airstrikes in Libya and Qaddafi was killed that year. Now, a power vacuum in the country has allowed extremism to fester.
The New York Times reported last month that the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh) is expanding in Sirte, Qaddafi’s hometown. One of the reporters who wrote that story later said that he was “shocked and alarmed” at how much ISIS had grown in Libya.
“The country is a haven for ISIS and jihadists with an estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters there today,” Raddatz said to Clinton. “You advocated for that 2011 intervention and called it ‘smart power at its best’ and yet even President Obama said the US should have done more to fill the leadership vacuum left behind. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed elections?”
Clinton didn’t answer the question directly at first.
“United States was asked to support the Europeans and the Arab partners that we had, and we did a lot of due diligence about whether we should or not, and eventually, yes, I recommended and the president decided that, yes, we should support the action to protect civilians on the ground and that led to the overthrow of Qaddafi,” Clinton said.
“I think that what Libya then did by having a full, free election, which elected moderates, was an indication of their crying need and desire to get on the right path.”
She then acknowledged that the “entire region” is now unstable and blamed part of that on ISIS’ “very effective” propaganda outreach to radicalize and recruit people.
Clinton also said that in creating a national government, Libyans “had very strong feelings about what they wished to accept.”
Raddatz then repeated the question.
“That government lacked institutions and experience, it had been a family business for 40 years; on the security side, we offered only a modest training effort and a very limited arms buyback program,” she said. “Let me ask you the question again: How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed those elections?”
Clinton danced around the question again.
“We offered a lot more than they were willing to take,” she said. “We offered a lot more. We also got rid of their chemical weapons, which was a big help. And we also went after a lot of the shoulder-fired missiles to round them up.”
She noted that the US and others offered to send trainers and experts but that there “wasn’t a lot of responsiveness at first.”
“I think that a lot of the Libyans who had been forced out of their country by Qaddafi who came back to try to be part of a new government believed they knew what to do, and it turned out that they were no match for some of the militaristic forces inside that country,” she said.
“But I’m not giving up on Libya, and I don’t think anybody should. We’ve been at this for a couple of years.”
President Barack Obama commented on Libya at his end-of-the-year press conference earlier this week, defending his decision to intervene.
“Those who argue in retrospect, ‘We should have left Qaddafi in there,’ seem to forget that he had already lost legitimacy and control of his country and we could have, instead of having what we had in Libya now, we could have had another Syria in Libya now,” he said, according to CBS News.
Some Republican presidential candidates have said that regime change in Libya was a mistake, according to CBS.
Obama did acknowledge, however, that more could have been done to rebuild a suitable government in the country.
“The problem with Libya was the fact that there was a failure on the part of the entire international community, and I think the United States has some accountability, for not moving swiftly enough and underestimating the need to rebuild government there quickly,” Obama said.
Libya is being brought up more as the situation in Syria devolves. Politicians are questioning whether the US should try to force out President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has killed thousands of civilians with barrel bombs as it tries to hold onto power.
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