Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton defended the 2011 invasion of Libya on Wednesday night by arguing that if the United States hadn’t intervened, there would be a civil war in the country today.
There is a civil war in Libya today.
“With respect to Libya, again, there’s no difference between my opponent and myself,” Clinton told NBC News’ Matt Lauer at the Commander-in-Chief Forum. “He’s on record extensively supporting intervention in Libya, when Gadhafi was threatening to massacre his population. I put together a coalition that included NATO, included the Arab League, and we were able to save lives. We did not lose a single American in that action.”
“And I think taking that action was the right decision,” she continued. “Not taking it, and permitting there to be an ongoing civil war in Libya, would have been as dangerous and threatening as what we are now seeing in Syria.”
Clinton was a strong proponent of the Libyan intervention, according to a New York Times report, and helped push a fence-sitting President Obama across the line.
“I’ve always thought that Hillary’s support for the broader mission in Libya put the president on the 51 side of the line for a more aggressive approach,” then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who opposed the intervention, told the Times.
Some Middle East analysts agree that intervening was the right decision. As Brookings’ Shadi Hami wrote in Vox: “To argue that the current conflict in Libya is a result of the intervention, one would basically need to assume that the outbreak of civil war was inevitable, irrespective of anything that happened in the intervening 30 months.”
But Clinton’s statements on Wednesday are shocking, due to the ignorance of the continued conflict on the ground in Libya. Since the intervention, Libya has gone through a rough period of extreme instability and political dysfunction. One could argue that Libya — while not racking up the same number of casualties as Syria over the last five years — is not any more stable than Syria today.
According to Libya Body Count, a website that tallies the number of deaths since the start of Libya’s 2014 civil war, at least 5,300 people have been killed in the fighting since 2014. Also, the political situation is in total disarray, leaving the country in a state of complete instability.
“There are two rival parliaments and three governments — the latest government was formed in UN-brokered talks in December with the aim of replacing the other two,” the BBC reported last month. “But this initiative is still on the rocks, partly because of concerns that the new government is being imposed by Western powers.”
Meanwhile, as ISIS is beaten back in northern Syria and parts of Iraq, the group is expanding its influence in Libya.
And despite all the problems Libya is facing, Clinton maintained that intervening was the correct action to take. Obama has not necessarily said that intervening was the incorrect decision but that the failure to plan for the post-intervention period was the worst mistake of his presidency.