Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on May 27, 2015

Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at WSJ written by the editor, James Taranto.

Other Than That, the Story Was Accurate
“In a previous correction on this post, we corrected something that was actually correct. So we have corrected that correction. It had to do with Celsius temperatures.”–NPR.org, May 21

Out on a Limb
“Chris Christie: ‘Presidential Election Is Not the Miss America Pageant'”–headline, Washington Examiner, May 22

News of the Tautological

  • “With Victories, ISIS Dispels Hope of a Swift Decline”–headline, New York Times, May 24
  • “Washington Is Ready to Spend”–headline, The Hill website, May 26

Veni, Vidi, Benghazi
It’s a standard rap against Hillary Clinton, but is it fair? “Supporters [in a recent Iowa focus group] said she knows how to get stuff done but can’t name anything she’s actually, you know, done,” writes columnist Jonah Goldberg. “In fairness to them, [Mrs.] Clinton can’t name anything significant she did as secretary of state either—because she didn’t do anything very significant.” (We too noted that focus-group finding last week.)

A rebuttal of sorts comes from last week’s tranche of emails released by the State Department. “A top State Department official boasted of Hillary Clinton’s ‘leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s Libya policy from start to finish,’ ” Vox.com’s Jonathan Allen reports. The sender of that August 2011 email was Jake Sullivan, Secretary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff; the recipients were State Department aides Cheryl Mills and Victoria Nuland, the former a longtime Clinton loyalist.

“HRC has been a critical voice on Libya in administration deliberations, at NATO, and in contact group meetings,” Sullivan wrote. “She was instrumental in securing the authorization, building the coalition, and tightening the noose around [Moammar] Qadhafi and his regime.” There follows a timeline that runs from Feb. 25, 2011, when “HRC announces the suspension of operations of the Libyan embassy in Washington” through “early August,” when “HRC works to construct a $1.5 billion assets package” of international aid to the new Libyan regime.

In early 2011 Mrs. Clinton (along with Susan Rice and Samantha Power) was understood to be the leading voice inside the administration urging military action against Gadhafi (as we spell the late dictator’s name). She was also, the Sullivan memo noted, the public face of the intervention. He quotes from a “major address” she gave in Geneva on Feb. 28 of that year, in which she declared: “Col. Gadhafi and those around him must be held accountable for these acts, which violate international legal obligations and common decency. And the people of Libya have made themselves clear: It is time for Gadhafi to go—now, without further violence or delay.”

Within months he went. Rebel forces, aided by U.S. and allied airstrikes, advanced on Tripoli and took Gadhafi’s compound on Aug. 23, two days after Sullivan sent that memo. On Oct. 18 a triumphant Mrs. Clinton visited Tripoli, where she posed with rebels-turned-soldiers making the victory gesture.

Two days later, she was even more triumphant. As the Blaze noted at the time, she was sitting for a series of interviews (!) in Kabul, Afghanistan, when word arrived that Gadhafi had been killed. A CBS video shows Mrs. Clinton laughing heartily as she sums up the Libya operation: “We came, we saw, he died.”

More than an accomplished diplomat, Mrs. Clinton was also a movie star. “Can you get us a copy of Bernard Henri-Levi’s [sic; actually Bernard-Henri Lévy] film about Libya?” the Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross quotes her as asking aides Philippe Reines and Huma Abedin in an email sent from her private address. “I think Harvey [Weinstein] made it and it showed at Cannes last spring.”

The Caller notes that the film, “The Oath of Tobruk,” got lousy reviews “mostly because of Lévy’s self-aggrandizing presentation,” but a Weinstein Co. press release suggested some of the aggrandizement was reflected onto the secretary: “This wonderful movie shows BHL’s incredible courage and the strength of former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and also highlights the invaluable leadership from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”

So what happened to Mrs. Clinton’s glorious accomplishments in Libya? A partial answer is in the time stamp of that brief email to Reines and Abedin: 5:50 a.m. Sept. 11, 2012—the day of the Benghazi attack. (Ross observes drolly that the secretary “had a movie on her mind. But she wasn’t thinking about ‘The Innocence of Muslims,’ the short YouTube film that the Obama administration erroneously blamed for the Benghazi attack.”

Soon enough she and her team were thinking about “Innocence.” A Reuters report notes that after the attack, top aides “fretted over how she would be portrayed”—which is to say that puffery over her Libyan achievement turned to damage control over the Libyan disaster:

A senior adviser to Clinton, Jake Sullivan, forwarded an email from a State Department official about positive media coverage of a statement she gave on Sept. 12, 2012, the day after the killings.

“Really nice work guys,” State Department official Matthew Walsh wrote in an email to other staffers, which linked to a story on the Slate news site praising Clinton’s comments about Benghazi as “her most eloquent news conference as secretary of state.” . . .

In another email from September 2012, Sullivan assured the secretary of state that she had used the correct language to describe the lead-up to the Benghazi attacks. . . .

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the time, Susan Rice, drew heavy criticism from Republicans for making this claim on several Sunday TV shows, even though intelligence indicated within hours after the attacks that they had been the carefully planned work of Islamist militia members. . . .

“You never said spontaneous or characterized the motives, in fact you were careful in your first statement to say we were assessing motive and method,” [Sullivan] wrote [Mrs. Clinton] in an email.

The situation in Libya has continued to decline. From last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal:

Islamic State leaders in Syria have sent money, trainers and fighters to Libya in increasing numbers, raising new concerns for the U.S. that the militant group is gaining traction in its attempts to broaden its reach and expand its influence.

In recent months, U.S. military officials said, Islamic State has solidified its foothold in Libya as it searches for ways to capitalize on rising popularity among extremist groups around the world.

“ISIL now has an operational presence in Libya, and they have aspirations to make Libya their African hub,” said one U.S. military official, using an acronym for the group. “Libya is part of their terror map now.” . . .

U.S. military officials see few good options for halting Islamic State’s growth in Libya, where numerous militant groups have filled the power vacuums created by the fight for control between two weak, dueling governments in the country.

In short, Libya today looks a lot like Iraq and got that way because of a similar sequence of events: A U.S.-led military intervention ended a dictator’s rule (and eventually his life), but failures in follow-through led to the effective dissolution of the state, giving terrorists room to operate.

One difference is that in Iraq one can argue over which U.S. president committed the greater error—George W. Bush by going in, or Barack Obama by withdrawing. (Even Obama conceded, in last week’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated since he took office, though naturally he dodges responsibility: “I think it was a mistake for us to go in in the first place, despite the incredible efforts that were made by our men and women in uniform. Despite that error, those sacrifices allowed the Iraqis to take back their country. That opportunity was squandered by Prime Minister Maliki and the unwillingness to reach out effectively to the Sunni and Kurdish populations.”)

But the Libyan intervention and subsequent collapse took place entirely on Obama’s watch—and with Mrs. Clinton’s leadership. She has renounced her 2002-03 support for the Iraq intervention. With respect to Libya, one wonders how she’d answer the if-you-had-it-to-do-over-again question. One also wonders if she’ll ever take the question.

At any rate, the standard rap against Mrs. Clinton—that she accomplished nothing as secretary of state—is unfair. Unfair in her favor.

For more “Best of the Web” click here and look for the “Best of the Web Today” link in the middle column below “Today’s Columnists.”