Clinton, ignoring the advice of the State Department’s lawyers, convinced Obama to grant full diplomatic recognition to the rebels, a move that allowed the Libyans access to billions of dollars from Gaddafi’s frozen accounts. At a meeting in Istanbul on July 15, she pressed 30 other Western and Arab governments to make the same declaration.
“She brought everyone over at once,” said a Western diplomat who attended the Istanbul meeting.
While in Tripoli, Libya, Hillary Clinton spoke to young Libyans, telling them that their future was full of possibilities. (Oct. 18)
Tripoli fell five weeks later, after a relatively small U.S. expenditure of $1 billion and with no regular U.S. troops on the ground. In the air campaign, U.S. jets flew less than a third of the missions but supplied critical support in air refueling, surveillance and logistics for sorties flown by more than a dozen other nations.
Still, no hero’s welcome
The political benefits to Clinton and Obama remain far from clear. To many Libyans and others in the Muslim world, the lasting impression from the campaign is that of a reluctant America, slow to intervene and happy to let others take the lead. While Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron were given heroes’ welcomes during victory laps through Libya last month, Clinton was confronted during her recent Tripoli visit with questions about why the United States had not done more.
“Many people feel that the United States has taken a back seat,” one student told her.
U.S. critics of the administration’s policy say its Libya policy, while ultimately successful, is emblematic of a slow and haphazard response to the Arab Spring uprisings.
“Earlier intervention might have prevented the conflict from ever reaching that dangerous precipice,” said Michael Singh, who served as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.“There is a difference between building an international consensus and following one.”
Clinton acknowledged that history’s verdict on the Libyan intervention was far from assured and said that NATO’s formula for aiding a popular uprising against a dictatorship may not be easily applied elsewhere.
“We need to assess where we are, what we accomplished together, what the costs were,” Clinton said. Meanwhile, she said, “we do have to be more agile and flexible in dealing with a lot of the challenges we face, and we should be unembarrassed about that.”
Staff writer Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.