“This is basically off the top of my head, with a few consultations of my notes. but it shows [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s] leadership/ownership/stewardship of this country’s Libya policy from start to finish. — Aug. 21, 2011 email from State Department Director of Policy Planning Jake Sullivan to Cheryl D. Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Clinton.
Jake Sullivan has been called to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Friday. He left the State Department with Mrs. Clinton. He is now the chief national security aide for the Clinton campaign. According to Politico, the Clinton campaign has told a “group of ‘Hillblazers’ that it would soon start getting regular policy briefings via conference calls with one of Clinton’s closest policy aides, Jake Sullivan.” He is the inside-the-Beltway odds-on favorite to be national security adviser if Mrs. Clinton is elected president in 2016.
Leaving aside Mr. Sullivan’s enthusiasm for his boss in 2011, what is the Libya today of which Mrs. Clinton would have total “leadership/ownership/stewardship,” if she were to claim possession?
The story begins on June 4, 2009, with President Obama’s speech at Cairo University, which the White House website still calls “A New Beginning.” In that time frame, President Obama was riding high in the polls, he had huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and by October it would be announced that he had been selected to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Under these circumstances, it would be hard for anyone to keep his feet on the ground.
While not havens of human rights virtue, in June 2009 the Middle East and North Africa was more or less stable. al Qaeda had been defeated in Iraq. Energetic local governments had marginalized most Muslim extremist organizations. Col. Moammar Gadhafi had seen the light and was cooperating with the United States on control of extremists and weapons of mass destruction proliferation. Religious minorities, especially Christians, were protected. Antiquities were respected as part of the region’s cultural heritage. There were no civil wars, no mass killings, no widespread destruction of homes, no new waves of refugees. There was at least some measure of hope for millions of people.
All of that changed after President Obama’s Cairo speech. The Egyptian government was overthrown and a Muslim Brotherhood regime installed, lasting until the Egyptian people demanded that the army restore order. Withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq resulted in a vacuum that the Islamic State was happy to fill. A demand that “Assad must go” led to civil war, with ISIS now in the suburbs of Damascus. Christians and other religious minorities who had remained in the region for more than a thousand years are now under intense persecution — killed, enslaved, and houses of worship destroyed. Waves of refugees are pouring into Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people from Iraq to North Africa have been killed. More lost their homes and wander aimlessly in their own countries.
And then there is Libya. As Mr. Sullivan was writing in August 2011, the country was descending into chaos. By October, Gadhafi was dead and by September 2012 so, too, were the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
Libya today is a failed state. The 2006 census of Libya listed the population at 6.6 million people. About 9 percent of the population, 550,000 Libyans, are “internally displaced,” which is the nice way of saying they have lost their homes and are wandering the country seeking help where they can find it. In U.S. terms that would be about the equivalent of something in excess of 30 million Americans losing their homes. There are no reliable estimates of how many Libyans have been killed, maimed or made orphans since Mr. Sullivan’s August 2011 email.
With rampant lawlessness in the country, the human wolves have thrived, putting desperate refugees by the hundreds into overcrowded and unseaworthy boats. The Libyan Red Crescent patrols the beaches and buries the bodies by the dozens that wash ashore.
ISIS has made Libya its North African headquarters. Tunisian radicals trained in Libya have made two attacks on tourists in Tunis that killed more than 60 people. Gadhafi’s depots of conventional arms have been looted and the contents distributed widely. Out of total despair, Libyan politicians have begged the Arab League to send warplanes to bomb their own country.
A member of Congress can ask any question he or she likes. Perhaps the Benghazi Committee could revisit August 2011 and ask Mr. Sullivan why he thought Mrs. Clinton had total “leadership/ownership/stewardship” of Libya policy. Further, he could be asked whether, in the light of the current situation in Libya, her “stewardship” has been positive or negative for the people of Libya?
• William C. Triplett II is a former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.