The New York Times has just published a two-part series on Hillary Clinton's role in the Libya fiasco and there are telling moments that should serve as lessons of what not to do when running foreign policy.
As everyone knows, in 2011 then-Secretary of State Clinton was a key promoter of bombing of Libya. Her eagerness was in large part based on a talk she had with Libyan opposition politician Mahmoud Jibril in March 2011, the NYT reports. According to a Clinton assistant secretary, Jibril said "all the right things about supporting democracy and inclusivity and building Libyan institutions."
The Libyan opposition, "gave us what we wanted to hear," the aide said.
And that was enough, I guess. After all, Jibril had a political science doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh. What better qualifications do you need for an endorsement to go to war? Hillary got President Obama to go along.
Jibril eventually headed a provisional government but lasted only seven and a half months before skedaddling, in October 2011. It was just a couple of days after a mob butchered Moammar Gaddafi to death in the middle of the desert.
In a moment of grotesque hubris not seen since George W. Bush declared "Mission accomplished," Hillary boasted about Gaddafi's death, "We came, we saw, he died."
NYT called it "a rare unguarded moment." Unguarded? Heck, she said it on national TV. You'd think that reports that rebels had summarily executed 60 members of Gaddafi's entourage would have given her pause.
Soon, Clinton was left holding the bag of a messy policy that resulted in Libya becoming a haven for the Islamic State and for her becoming the target of uncomfortable questions about her role.
The reason I pick on the Jibril-Clinton meeting is because it reminds me of a common phenomenon I ran into during my years as a foreign correspondent: an American eagerness to believe Men In Suits, especially when they want the U.S. to put them in power to replace someone the U.S. doesn't like. Who are these Men In Suits? A typical profile would be: a Westernized foreign politician, preferably educated in the United States, and considered persuasive mainly because he speaks English. The kind of guy you might meet at the club, only instead of talking golf, he wants you to attack his own country.
The champion of this category is, of course, the late Ahmed Chalabi, the late Iraqi banker-politico. Not only did he tirelessly lobby two US governments to attack Iraq, he also single-handedly persuaded US occupation poobahs in Iraq to disband the Iraqi army and purge every last Baathist from any role in anything.
Chalabi- PhD. in math from the University of Chicago- was also in cahoots with Iran, had no popular support in Iraq and was a sketchy businessman. No matter. He was still able to persuade then-US overlord in Iraq, Paul Bremer, of his wisdom. Chalabi wore Savile Row suits, after all.
There have been plenty of others. Almost any Haitian who has spent time in Miami can become a U.S.-backed candidate for president of Haiti; the current provisional president, Jocelerme Privert (named to office following postponed elections in January), was trained by the International Monetary Fund in Washington, always a good resume item.
In Panama back in 1985, the country's president, Arturo del Valle, a U.S. protégé who graduated from Louisiana State University, tried to fire Generalissimo Manuel Noriega at the behest of the first Bush administration. It didn't work out, Panama being in Latin America where historically generals fire presidents. Noriega dismissed del Valle, who quickly took refuge in the U.S. ambassadorial residence. He died last year in Cleveland.
Salam Fayad, the mild mannered former Palestinian prime minister, is the U.S.'s preferred option to succeed aging Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president. That's not going to happen, even though Fayad has a doctorate from the University of Texas!!
Anyway, besides the Men-In-Suits syndrome, Clinton seems susceptible to the chronic and deadly U.S. illusion that before you drop bombs you don't have to think about consequences down the road. That, of course, is what happened in Iraq. In the NYT account of pre-Libya war meetings, Vice President Joe Biden warned about a possibly bloody aftermath. Clinton brought in her old friend, Being On the Right Side Of History, and Obama caved.
As Libya went down the tube of chaos, Clinton begged for someone, anyone, to do something, the NYT says. Obama did next to nothing because he was busy doing next to nothing in Syria.
Oh well, things happen. And anyway, by 2013, it was time for Clinton to leave the State Department and run for president. Now it's someone else's mess.
To curb the Islamic State in Libya, Obama is considering dropping more bombs. For Hillary, no second guessing allowed. Criticism is just, "Coulda, woulda, shoulda," a phrase she used once when asked if the 2012 death of ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi might have been avoided.
NYT says Clinton believes in the U.S. power to do good in the world. Soon, she might be president and she can try again. Hopefully, someone will advise her that just because some guy who speaks unaccented English says the U.S. should go to war, maybe we shouldn't. Maybe it might actually do harm to the people she's trying to help and to the people of the United States. And that someone should be sure to wear a suit.