Attention this week has been focused on Hillary Clinton’s refusal to identify anything she did wrong in the Benghazi, Libya, debacle. Some additional questions might be asked in future interviews:
- How carefully did she follow the influx of jihadis into Libya? Did she ask for and/or receive intelligence probing whether it was safe for Americans to remain after other countries pulled out?
- How cognizant of the collapse of central authority in Libya was she, and did she recommend any steps to address that?
- In retrospect, was it wrong to say al-Qaeda was put back on its heels?
But Benghazi was hardly her only flub. It is noteworthy what she has to say about Iran in her book. In her defense of the administration’s refusal to actively support the Green Revolution she writes, “In retrospect I’m not sure our restraint was the right choice. It did not stop the regime from ruthlessly crushing the Green Movement, which was exceedingly painful to watch. … I came to regret that we did not speak out more forcefully and rally others to do the same. In the aftermath of the crackdown in Iran, I resolved to step up efforts to provide pro-democracy activists with tools and technology to evade government repression and censorship.”
Hmm. Not sure it was wise to clam up when a once in a lifetime opportunity to move Iran toward freedom comes along? A more candid account would say: I blew it by not insisting we support the Green Revolution.
That is in its own way the biggest mistake of her tenure. She might have made a difference at a historic point in Middle East history and thereby created conditions for a peaceful dismantling of Iran’s nuclear threat. Instead, she blew it. (Her purported determination to support “pro-democracy activists” after that didn’t exactly come to fruition.)
Her other major error on Iran was in foot-dragging on sanctions. Now she likes to claim credit for the sanctions architecture, but her department was vilified again and again between 2009 and 2011 for opposing or trying to water down sanctions. She should be asked about this glaring inconsistency.
Then there is Iraq. Clinton hasn’t said much about the failure to secure permission for troops to remain in Iraq. Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, and a co-author of the surge strategy, earlier this year observed this was a fatal error:
The United States was on the verge of creating a permanent military presence in Iraq when the war ended.
That would have provided a base from which to strike al-Qaeda in its backyard and counter Iranian influence in the region, analysts say. Case in point: The United States still has 40,000 troops in Japan and 54,000 in Germany a half-century after World War II ended. U.S. commanders under Obama recommended keeping 20,000 troops in what was deemed a more volatile area of the world. Commanders said a robust troop presence would help Iraqi forces keep a lid on violence and allow the U.S. to keep tabs on al-Qaeda. Obama rejected the idea, Kagan said.
“The resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq that we’re seeing is a direct result of the withdrawal of U.S. forces because Iraqi security forces don’t have the high-end counterterrorism capabilities that U.S. forces had,” he said.
[Colin Kahl, who served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East] says Obama was willing to leave a smaller force in place but that Iraqi politicians balked. Sen. John McCain has said the White House did not try to settle the differences because Obama was set on an exit.
What went wrong here? Clinton should be pressed to explain whether the president was dead set on withdrawing all troops or whether he was depending on her to secure their continued presence. In any event, it is one more example of the Obama-Cinton policy train wreck.
In short, Bengahzi is only one of many serious policy flubs by Clinton in the Middle East, including misreading the Green Revolution, resisting Iran sanctions and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq. The history of the Middle East might have been far different if she had driven our policy in another direction. If reporters continue to press her on these and other issues, the public may learn how the serial disasters of this administration unfolded and whether Clinton has learned anything from them. If she hasn’t, it is fair to ask how she would possibly avoid similar catastrophes if she became president.