US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (R) talks with Susan Rice (L), the US Ambassador to the United Nations in a Security Council meeting during the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September 2010 at UN headquarters in New York. [STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images]
Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power were the three principal advocates of war against Libya in 2011, setting the North African nation on a free fall ever since. Demonstrations broke out in some Libyan cities against the government of late Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011, in what became known as the “Arab Spring” that engulfed the region. However, Libya’s promised spring turned into a destructive autumn during which Gaddafi was murdered on 20 October, 2011, and Libya was left anguishing in lawlessness, courtesy of the three women.
Secretary of State Clinton deployed whatever the State Department had to make the pitch for war, undercutting both the Pentagon and the US intelligence community. Pentagon officials and Democratic legislator Dennis Kucinich were so distrustful of Clinton, that they even opened their back channel with the Gaddafi government to try to stop the unnecessary war on Libya. However, Clinton had the ear of President Barak Obama and was feeding him unfounded stories about the conflict in Libya, in order to convince him to authorise the US military to take action. President Obama, at one point, referred anyone discussing the Libyan issue to talk to Clinton.
In her push for war and regime change in Libya, Clinton first used every possible means available to her as secretary of state to rally other US allies to support the intervention, under the pretext of “protecting civilians and civilian populated areas” in Libya alleged to be under government siege. She commanded Rice, the US’ permanent representative at the United Nations (UN) Security Council to campaign for the votes in the council to secure the passing of Resolution 1973, vaguely authorising the use of force. That resolution cleared the council by a vote of ten in favour, with five abstaining, including Russia and China. At the same time, Power, an official in the Obama administration’s national security team, took care of marketing the war as a “humanitarian intervention” within the administration.
For Clinton, who failed in almost every job she had, pushing for war against Libya in 2011 meant using her skills not only as the US’ top diplomat, but also as a prolific liar, too. She lied, at least twice, to the American people and legislators, simply by misrepresenting the events on the ground inside Libya at the time, and by claiming that regime change in Libya was not the real goal of the military intervention from the beginning. Even after NATO started bombing, she shut the door to any mediation or presentation of the Libyan government’s side of the story.
Clinton keeps twisting the Libyan narrative three years later, even when no longer secretary of state. In her memoir, Hard Choices, published in 2014, Clinton omitted NATO’s role in the regime change in Libya by claiming that the Libyan rebels captured Tripoli “by late summer 2011”, without mentioning NATO’s actions. At that point in the Libyan war, the NATO bombardment of Libya had expanded massively, beyond the declared mission of “protecting civilians” as required by the UN resolution. Regime change became the ultimate objective. Then-President Obama himself lied, or was misled to lie, by his very secretary of state. In his 23 March, 2011, remarks about Libya, Obama described the task he had assigned to the US military as protection of “the Libyan people from immediate danger” by establishing a no-fly zone with no intention of broadening that mission to include “regime change”, as that would be a “mistake”, according to Obama.
Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power at a Security Council meeting on counter terrorism at the United Nations on 30 September 2015 in New York City. [Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
Rice, the US diplomat at the UN, tried to qualify Clinton’s lies at the Security Council by projecting a massacre in eastern Libya. The fact is that the Libyan government, at the time, was responding to armed rebellion like any government would do. Even today, there is no evidence to support the claim that Gaddafi was planning, let alone executing, any massacres in any part of Libya.
Most Libyans still remember Rice, after the Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, hugging Libya’s representative who earlier defected. That scene, which shows a tearful Abdurrahman Shalgham embracing a sombre-looking Rice, became the subject of sarcasm and ridicule. Some Gaddafi supporters even interpreted it as more evidence of the “conspiracy” against Libya.
In marketing the war within the ranks of the Obama administration, Power played the history card to create fear of failure and inaction by President Obama. She exaggerated events in Libya, even comparing it to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, in which nearly one million people were killed. Invoking the Rwandan experience was designed to provoke the strongest reaction by Obama, a Democrat himself, as was Bill Clinton under whose watch the Rwandan mass killing unfolded. The world later discovered that the Clinton administration knew what was going on in Rwanda, but chose to ignore it. Apparently, Power, by comparing Libya to Rwanda, wanted to warn President Obama not to ignore Libya and be accused of lying, which he did anyway in the Libyan case.
Obama, five years later in a 2016 interview, admitted that intervening in Libya was his “worst” mistake, blaming British and French leaders instead of his own advisors. None of the three advisors has ever been held accountable to answer serious questions about the Libyan fiasco. Instead, Power later served as US ambassador to the UN before joining one of the US’ top universities – Harvard, no less. Rice is a researcher at the American University in Washington, while Clinton went on to run for president, losing to Donald Trump in 2016.