As Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton prepares to take the stage for the next Democratic debate on Sunday night, she can be certain that she’ll be asked about one thing: Libya.
The Times report was based on interviews with over 50 Libyan, European, and U.S. officials, and many of those interviewed recalled Clinton’s enthusiasm for joining France and the UK in intervening in Libya in March 2011. According to the Times, Obama, who was reluctant about intervening in the Middle East, privately told then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the Libya decision was 51–49. “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,” Gates, who opposed the intervention, told the Times.
Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time and received congratulatory emails from advisers and former staff after the intervention in Libya, has since attempted to distance herself from its conclusion, but she may be forced to finally acknowledge her role in Sunday’s debate.
Today, Libya is lacking a central government that has control over the entire country, and ISIS is rapidly growing inside the country. But perhaps most striking is the disastrous humanitarian condition the country is now in.
With a population of 6.2 million people, Libya is smaller than the state of Tennessee, and far exceeds the state in natural resources. But over one-third of the country is in need of humanitarian aid today, according to UN estimates. Over 40 percent of Libya’s health facilities are also not functioning, the UN reported Wednesday, and a vaccine shortage has put more than one million children under five at risk. Last month, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that life-saving medicine and food assistance will likely end in March due to pipeline breaks. This will affect 1.2 million people.
“On the ground, Libya is the ultimate failed state; electricity sputters in and out every few hours, running water frequently shuts off, and schools and hospitals bleed staff abroad, as medics join the tens of thousands sheltering in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and the Arabian Peninsula,” BuzzFeed News Middle East Correspondent Borzou Daragahi reported from Abu Grein last month.
Much of this may be due to the initial lack of a reconstruction plan for Libya. As the Times reported, most of the focus on Libya in 2011 was on disabling Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi’s command and control, and then on removing him from power entirely. There didn’t seem to be much of a plan for what came next. Gates told The Daily Beast in December 2015 that the United States was simply “playing it by ear.”
A 2014 report from the RAND Corporation found that due to a variety of factors, like limited forces on the ground, a U.S. desire to limit involvement in the country after Afghanistan and Iraq, and even limited NATO participation, post-conflict stabilization in Libya was drastically different from past NATO interventions. “No peacekeeping or stabilization forces were deployed after the war,” states the report. “In general, the international footprint in Libya would be very limited, by historical standards. A small UN mission was given responsibility for coordinating international post-conflict stabilization support. Although many countries, including the United States, sent diplomats to help with the transition from war to peace, Libyans were largely left to fend for themselves.”
With Libya now coming to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy concerns — from the growth of ISIS to the increase in those fleeing their homes and seeking safety elsewhere — Clinton may be forced to answer why there was no plan in place for Libya.