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If reason and justice prevailed in this country, you’d think that the recent series of articles in the Washington Times concerning the U.S.-NATO attack on Libya in 2011 would torpedo Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects.
Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State at that time knew that Libya was no threat to the U.S. She knew that Muammar Gadhafi had been closely cooperating with the U.S. in combating Islamist extremism. She probably realized that Gadhafi had a certain social base due in part to what by Middle Eastern standards was the relatively equitable distribution of oil income in Libya.
But she wanted to topple Gadhafi. Over the objections of Secretary of “Defense” Robert Gates but responding to the urgings of British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, she advocated war. Why? Not for the reason advertised at the time. (Does this sound familiar?) Not because Gadhafy was preparing a massacre of the innocents in Benghazi, as had occurred in Rwanda in 1994. (That episode, and the charge that the “international community” had failed to intervene, was repeatedly referenced by Clinton and other top officials, as a shameful precedent that must not be repeated. It had also been deployed by Bill Clinton in 1999, when he waged war on Serbia, grossly exaggerating the extent of carnage in Kosovo and positing the immanent prospect of “genocide” to whip up public support. Such uses of the Rwandan case reflect gross cynicism.)
No, genocide was not the issue, in Libya any more than in Kosovo. According to the Washington Times, high-ranking U.S. officials indeed questioned whether there was evidence for such a scenario in Libya. The Defense Intelligence Agency estimated that a mere 2,000 Libyan troops armed with 12 tanks were heading to Benghazi, and had killed about 400 rebels by the time the U.S. and NATO attacked. It found evidence for troops firing on unarmed protestors but no evidence of mass killing. It did not have a good estimate on the number of civilians in Benghazi but had strong evidence that most had fled. It had intelligence that Gadhafy had ordered that troops not fire on civilians but only on armed rebels.
The Pentagon doubted that Gadhafi would risk world outrage by ordering a massacre. One intelligence officer told the Washington Times that the decision to bomb was made on the basis of “light intelligence.” Which is to say, lies, cherry-picked information such as a single statement by Gadhafi (relentlessly repeated in the corporate press echoing State Department proclamations) that he would “sanitize Libya one inch at a time” to “clear [the country] of these rats.” (Similar language, it was said, had been used by Hutu leaders in Rwanda.) Now that the rats in their innumerable rival militias control practically every square inch of Libya, preventing the emergence of an effective pro-western government, many at the Pentagon must be thinking how stupid Hillary was.
No, the attack was not about preventing a Rwanda-like genocide. Rather, it was launched because the Arab Spring, beginning with the overthrow of the two dictators, President Ben Ali of Tunisia and President Mubarak of Egypt, had taken the west by surprise and presented it with a dilemma: to retain longstanding friendships (including that with Gadhafi, who’d been a partner since 2003) in the face of mass protests, or throw in its lot with the opposition movements, who seemed to be riding an inevitable historical trend, hoping to co-opt them?
Recall how Obama had declined up to the last minute to order Mubarak to step down, and how Vice President Joe Biden had pointedly declined to describe Mubarak as a dictator. Only when millions rallied against the regime did Obama shift gears, praise the youth of Egypt for their inspiring mass movement, and withdraw support for the dictatorship. After that Obama pontificated that Ali Saleh in Yemen (a key ally of the U.S. since 2001) had to step down in deference to protesters. Saleh complied, turning power to another U.S. lackey (who has since resigned). Obama also declared that Assad in Syria had “lost legitimacy,” commanded him to step down, and began funding the “moderate” armed opposition in Syria. (The latter have at this point mostly disappeared or joined al-Qaeda and its spin-offs. Some have turned coat and created the “Loyalists’ Army” backing Assad versus the Islamist crazies.)
Hillary, that supposedly astute stateswoman, believed that the Arab Spring was going to topple all the current dictators of the Middle East and that, given that, the U.S. needed to position itself as the friend of the opposition movements. Gadhafy was a goner, she reasoned, so shouldn’t the U.S. help those working towards his overthrow?
Of course the U.S. (or the combination of the U.S. and NATO) couldn’t just attack a sovereign state to impose regime change. It would, at any rate, have been politically damaging after the regime change in Iraq that had been justified on the basis of now well discredited lies. So the U.S. arm-twisted UNSC members to approve a mission to protect civilians in Libya against state violence. China and Russia declined to use their veto power (although as western duplicity and real motives became apparent, they came to regret this). The Libya campaign soon shifted from “peace-keeping” actions such as the imposition of a “no-fly” zone to overt acts of war against the Gadhafy regime, which for its part consistently insisted that the opposition was aligned with al-Qaeda.
The results of “Operation Unified Protector” have of course been absolutely disastrous. Just as the U,S. and some of its allies wrecked Iraq, producing a situation far worse than that under Saddam Hussein, so they have inflicted horrors on Libya unknown during the Gadhafi years. These include the persecution of black Africans and Tuaregs, the collapse of any semblance of central government, the division of the country between hundreds of warring militias, the destabilization of neighboring Mali producing French imperialist intervention, the emergence of Benghazi as an al-Qaeda stronghold, and the proliferation of looted arms among rebel groups. The “humanitarian intervention” was in fact a grotesque farce and huge war crime.
But the political class and punditry in this country do not attack Hillary for war crimes, or for promoting lies to validate a war of aggression. Rather, they charge her and the State Department with failure to protect U.S. ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and other U.S. nationals from the attack that occurred in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. And they fault her for promoting the State Department’s initial “talking point” that the attack had been a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim YouTube film rather than a calculated terrorist attack. They pan her for sniping at a senator during a hearing, “What difference does it make (whether the attack had been launched by protestors spontaneously, or was a terrorist action planned by forces unleashed by the fall of the Gadhafi regime)”?
In other words: Hillary’s mainstream critics are less concerned with the bombing of Libya in 2011 that killed over 1100 civilians, and produced the power vacuum exploited by murderous jihadis, than by Hillary’s alleged concealment of evidence that might show the State Department inadequately protected U.S. diplomats from the consequences of the U.S.-orchestrated regime change itself. In their view, the former First Lady might have blood on her hands—but not that, mind you, of Libyan civilians, or Libyan military forces going about their normal business, or of Gadhafi who was sodomized with a knife while being murdered as Washington applauded.
No, she’s held accountable for the blood of these glorified, decent upstanding Americans who’d been complicit in the ruin of Libya.
This version of events is easy to challenge. It’s easy to show that Clinton skillfully—in full neocon mode, spewing disinformation to a clueless public—steered an attack on Libya that has produced enormous blowback and ongoing suffering for the Libyan people. If a right-wing paper like Washington Times can expose this, how much more the more “mainstream” press? Could they at least not raise for discussion whether what Rand Paul calls “Hillary’s war” was, like the Iraq War (and many others) based on lies? Shouldn’t Hillary be hammered with the facts of her history, and her vaunted “toughness” be exposed as callous indifference to human life?
* * *
While championing the rights of women and children, arguing that “it takes a village” to raise a child, Clinton has endorsed the bombing of villages throughout her public life. Here are some talking points for those appalled by the prospects of a Hillary Clinton presidency.
*She has always been a warmonger. As First Lady from January 1993, she encouraged her husband Bill and his secretary of state Madeleine Albright to attack Serbian forces in the disintegrating Yugoslavia—in Bosnia in 1994 and Serbia in 1999. She’s stated that in 1999 she phoned her husband from Africa. “I urged him to bomb,” she boasts. These Serbs were (as usual) forces that did not threaten the U.S. in any way. The complex conflicts and tussles over territory between ethnic groups in the Balkans, and the collapse of the Russian economy following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, gave Bill Clinton an excuse to posture as the world’s savior and to use NATO to impose order. Only the United States, he asserted, could restore order in Yugoslavia, which had been a proudly neutral country outside NATO and the Warsaw Pact throughout the Cold War. President Clinton and Albright also claimed that only NATO—designed in 1949 to counter a supposed Soviet threat to Western Europe, but never yet deployed in battle—should deal with the Balkan crises.
The Bosnian intervention resulted in the imposition of the “Dayton Accord” on the parties involved and the creation of the dysfunctional state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Kosovo intervention five years later (justified by the scaremongering, subsequently disproven reports of a Serbian genocidal campaign against Kosovars) involved the NATO bombing of Belgrade and resulted in the dismemberment of Serbia. Kosovo, now recognized by the U.S. and many of its allies as an independent state, is the center of Europe’s heroin trafficking and the host of the U.S.’s largest army base abroad. The Kosovo war, lacking UN support and following Albright’s outrageous demand for Serbian acquiescence—designed, as she gleefully conceded, “to set the bar too high” for Belgrade and Moscow’s acceptance—of NATO occupation of all of Serbia, was an extraordinary provocation to Serbia’s traditional ally Russia. “They need some bombing, and that’s what they are going to get,” Albright said at the time, as NATO prepared to bomb a European capital for the first time since 1945.
*Clinton has been a keen advocate for the expansion of an antiquated Cold War military alliance that persists in provoking Russia. In the same year that NATO bombed Belgrade (1999), the alliance expanded to include Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. But Clinton’s predecessor George H. W. Bush had promised Russia in 1989 that NATO would not expand eastward. And since the Warsaw Pact had been dissolved in 1991, and since Russia under Boris Yeltsin hardly threatened any western countries, this expansion has understandably been viewed in Russia as a hostile move. George Kennan, a former U.S. ambassador to the USSR and a father of the “containment” doctrine, in 1998 pronounced the expansion a “tragic mistake” with “no reason whatsoever.” But the expansion continued under George W. Bush and has continued under Obama. Russia is now surrounded by an anti-Russian military alliance from its borders with the Baltic states to the north to Romania and Bulgaria. U.S.-backed “color revolutions” have been designed to draw more countries into the NATO camp. Hillary as secretary of state was a big proponent of such expansion, and under her watch, two more countries (Albania and Croatia) joined the U.S.-dominated alliance.
(To understand what this means to Russia, imagine how Washington would respond to a Russia-centered “defensive” military alliance requiring its members to spend 2% of their GDPs on military spending and coordinate military plans with Moscow incorporating Canada and all the Caribbean countries, surrounding the continental U.S., and now moving to include Mexico. Would this not be a big deal for U.S. leaders?)
*As New York senator Clinton endorsed the murderous ongoing sanctions against Iraq, imposed by the UN in 1990 and continued until 2003. Initially applied to force Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, the sanctions were sustained at U.S. insistence (and over the protests of other Security Council members) up to and even beyond the U.S. invasion in 2003. Bill Clinton demanded their continuance, insisting that Saddam Hussein’s (non-existent) secret WMD programs justified them. In 1996, three years into the Clinton presidency, Albright was asked whether the death of half a million Iraq children as a result of the sanctions was justified, and famously replied in a television interview, “We think it was worth it.” Surely Hillary agreed with her friend and predecessor as the first woman secretary of state. She also endorsed the 1998 “Operation Desert Fox” (based on lies, most notably the charge that Iraq had expelled UN inspectors) designed to further destroy Iraq’s military infrastructure and make future attacks even easier.
*She was a strident supporter of the Iraq War. As a New York senator from 2001 to 2009, Hillary aligned herself with the neoconservatives in the Bush administration, earning a reputation as a hawk. She was a fervent supportive of the attack on Iraq, based on lies, in 2003. On the floor of the Senate she echoed all the fictions about Saddam Hussein’s “chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program.” She declared, “He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members.” She suggested that her decision to support war was “influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Ave. in the White House watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation.” (Presumably by the latter she meant the threats posed by Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo.) Her loss to Obama in the Democratic primary in 2008 was due largely to Obama’s (supposed) antiwar position contrasting with her consistently pro-war position. She has only vaguely conceded that her support for the invasion was something of a mistake. But she blames her vote on others, echoing Dick Cheney’s bland suggestion that the problem was “intelligence failures.” “If we knew know then what we know now,” she stated as she began her presidential campaign in late 2006, “I certainly wouldn’t have voted” for the war.
*She actively pursued anti-democratic regime change in Ukraine. As secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, Clinton as noted above endorsed NATO’s relentless expansion. She selected to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs the neocon Victoria Nuland, who had been the principal deputy foreign advisor to Cheney when he was vice president. The wife of neocon pundit Robert Kagan, Nuland is a war hawk whose current mission in life is the full encirclement of Russia with the integration of Ukraine into the EU and then into NATO. The ultimate goal was the expulsion of the Russian Black Sea Fleet from the Crimean Peninsula (where it has been stationed since 1783). She has boasted of the fact that the U.S. has invested five billion dollars in supporting what she depicts as the Ukrainian people’s “European aspirations.” What this really means is that the U.S. exploited political divisions in Ukraine to topple an elected leader and replace him with Nuland’s handpicked prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyev, deploying neo-Nazi shock troops in the process and generating a civil war that has killed over 5000 people.
Clinton has increasingly vilified Vladimir Putin, the popular Russian president, absurdly comparing the Russian re-annexation of the Crimean Peninsula following a popular referendum with Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland. She is totally on board the program of producing a new Cold War, and forcing European allies to cooperate in isolating the former superpower.
*She wanted to provide military assistance to the “moderate” armed opposition in Syria, to effect regime change, and after leaving office criticized Obama for not supplying more than he did. In 2011 Clinton wanted the U.S. to arm rebels who quickly became aligned with the al-Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate) and other extreme Islamists, in order to bring down a secular regime that respects religious rights, rejects the implementation of Sharia law, and promotes the education of women. The U.S. indeed has supplied arms to anti-Assad forces from at least January 2014, But as it happens the bulk of U.S. aid to the “moderate rebels” has been appropriated by Islamists, and some of it is deployed against U.S. allies in Iraq. It is now widely understood that the bulk of “moderate” rebels are either in Turkish exile or directed by CIA agents, while the U.S. plans to train some 5000 new recruits in Jordan. Meanwhile Assad has won election (as fair as any held in a U.S. client state like Afghanistan or Iraq) and gained the upper hand in the civil war. U.S. meddling in Syria has empowered the Islamic State that now controls much of Syria and Iraq.
*She has been an unremitting supporter of Israeli aggression, whenever it occurs. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz described her last year as “Israel’s new lawyer” given her sympathetic view of Binyamin Netanyahu’s 2014 bombardment of Gaza and even his desire to maintain “security” throughout the occupied West Bank. She postured as an opponent of Israel’s unrelenting, illegal settlements of Palestinian territory in 2009, but backed down when Netanyahu simply refused to heed U.S. calls for a freeze. In her memoir she notes “our early, hard line on settlements didn’t work”—as though she’s apologizing for it.
In 1999 as First Lady, Hillary Clinton hugged and kissed Yassir Arafat’s wife Suha during a trip to the West Bank. She advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state. She changed her tune when she ran for the New York Senate seat. When it comes to the Middle East, she is a total, unprincipled opportunist.
*Hillary tacitly endorsed the military coup against elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in 2009, refusing to call it such (even though Obama did). She made common cause with those who feared his effort to poll the people about constitutional reform would weaken their positions, made nice with the ensuing regime and made sure Zelaya would not return to office.
*She provoked China by siding with Japan in the Senkaku/ Daioyutai dispute. Departing from the State Department’s traditional stance that “we take no position” on the Sino-Japanese dispute about sovereignty over the Senkaku/ Daioyutai islands in the East China Sea, seized by Japan in 1895, Clinton as secretary of state emphasized that the islands fall within the defense perimeters of the U.S.-Japanese alliance. The warmongering neocon National Review in a piece entitled “In Praise of Hillary Clinton” praised her for “driving the Chinese slightly up a wall.”
*She helped bring down a Japanese prime minister who heeded the feelings of the people of Okinawa, who opposed the Futenma Marine Corps Air Force Station on the island. The new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party of Japan defeated the slavishly pro-U.S. Liberal Democratic Party in the general election of 2009, had promised to move the hated U.S. base in the heart of Ginowan city for the noise, air pollution and public safety hazards it causes. Clinton met with him, listened sympathetically, and said “no.” Hatoyama was obliged to apologize to the people of Okinawa, essentially conceding that Japan remains an occupied nation that doesn’t enjoy sovereignty. Nationwide his public support ratings fell from 70 to 17% and he was obliged to resign in shame after eight months in office.
*She made countless trips to India, signing bilateral economic and nuclear cooperation agreements with a country her husband had placed under sanctions for its nuclear tests in 1998. While castigating North Korea for its nuclear weapons program, and taking what a CIA analyst called a “more hard line, more conditional, more neoconservative [approach] than Bush during the last four years of his term,” she signaled that India’s nukes were no longer an issue for the U.S. India is, after all, a counterweight to China.
What can those who revere her point to in this record that in any way betters the planet or this country? Clinton’s record of her tenure in the State Department is entitled Hard Choices, but it has never been hard for Hillary to choose brute force in the service of U.S. imperialism and its controlling 1%.
This is a country of 323 million people. 88% of those over 25 have graduated high school. The world respects U.S. culture, science, and technology. Why is it that out of our well-educated, creative masses the best that the those who decide these things—the secretive cliques within the two official, indistinguishable political parties who answer to the 1% and who decide how to market electoral products—can come up with is the likely plate of candidates for the presidential election next year? Why is it that, while we all find it ridiculous that North Korea’s ruled by its third Kim, Syria by its second Assad, and Cuba by its second Castro, the U.S. electorate may well be offered a choice between another Clinton and another Bush? As though their predecessors of those surnames were anything other than long-discredited warmongering thugs?
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: email@example.com