Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton twice dodged moderator Martha Raddatz’s simple question on Libya at Saturday night’s Democratic debate in Manchester, New Hampshire: “How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed elections?”
The exchange was as follows:
Raddatz: Secretary Clinton, I want to circle back to something your opponents here have brought up. Libya is falling apart. The country is a haven for ISIS and jihadists with an estimated 2,000 ISIS fighters there today. You advocated for that 2011 intervention and called it “smart power at its best.” And yet even President Obama said the U.S. should have done more to fill the leadership vacuum left behind. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed elections?
Clinton: Well, first, let’s remember why we became part of a coalition to stop Gadhafi from committing massacres against his people. The 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 we would support the action to protect civilians on the ground and that led to the overthrow of Gadhafi. 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. Now, the whole region has been rendered unstable, in part because of the aftermath of the Arab Spring, in part because of the very effective outreach and propagandizing that ISIS and other terrorist groups do. But what we’re seeing happening in Libya right now is that there has been a fragile agreement to put aside the differences that exist among Libyans themselves to try to dislodge ISIS from Sirte, the home town of Gadhafi, and to begin to try to create a national government. You know, this is not easy work. We did a lot to help. We did as much as we could because the Libyans themselves had very strong feelings about what they wished to accept. but we’re always looking for ways about what more we can do to try to give people a chance to be successful.
Raddatz: Secretary Clinton, I want to go back. 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 buy-back program. Let me ask you the question again. How much responsibility do you bear for the chaos that followed those elections?
Clinton: Martha, we offered a lot more than they were willing to take. 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. you know, we can’t–if we’re not going to send American troops, which there was never any idea of doing that, then to try to send trainers, to try to send experts, is something we offered. Europeans offered, the U.N. offered, and there wasn’t a lot of responsiveness at first. I think a lot of the Libyans who had been forced out of their country by Gadhafi who came back to try to be part of a new government, believed they knew what to do and it turned out they were no match for some of the militaristic forces inside that country. But I’m not giving up on Libya and I don’t think anybody should. We’ve been at this a couple of years.
Raddatz: But were mistakes made?
Clinton: Well, there’s always a retrospective to say what mistakes were made. But I know that we offered a lot of help and I know it was difficult for the Libyans to accept help. What we could have done if they had said yes would have been a lot more than what we were able to have done.