Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and the Ill-Fated Wars They Supported

Why aren't foreign-policy blunders this significant disqualifying for presidential hopefuls?

When the U.S. helped to oust Libya's dictator from power, supporters of the intervention included Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Nancy Pelosi, Marco Rubio, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol. In advance of Election 2016, when some of these people try to influence public debate and others vie to become president of the United States, let us continue to monitor the outcome of the war that they supported.

The New York Times reports the latest:

Nearly four years after the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s warring cities and towns have become so entangled in internal conflicts over money and power that they have opened a door for the Islamic State to expand into the country’s oil-rich deserts and sprawling coastline. Libya has become a new frontier for the radical group as it comes under increasing pressure from American-led airstrikes on its original strongholds in Iraq and Syria. While other extremist organizations may have sought only to capitalize on the Islamic State’s fearsome name, the contingent here in Surt has not only taken over a major Libyan city but also demonstrated clear coordination with the parent organization, also known as ISIS or ISIL and based in Syria.

A recent video depicting the beheadings of Egyptian Christians kidnapped from Surt appeared to have been taped on the Libyan shoreline, but it also featured the parent group’s signature audiovisual sophistication, orange jumpsuits and ceremonial knives... That close cooperation so far sets the Islamic State group in Surt apart from the wave of other militants who have pledged allegiance to ISIS... But even after the international uproar over the video, no Libyan authority has been able to take any effective action against the group. Two warring coalitions of militias have divided the country, and each... appears more intent on fighting the other than on thwarting the Islamic State. What is more, the battles have crippled Libya’s oil exports so severely that there is now a risk that the country’s currency and economy will soon collapse.

Especially since Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio also supported the Iraq War, another conflict that harmed U.S. interests by creating a power vacuum that terrorists filled, their support for intervening in Libya ought to disqualify them from the presidency. Savvy political observers will scoff at that judgement. Yet their notion of who is qualified to shape foreign policy is disconnected from past performance. What ought to be scoffed at are the résumés of these hawks.

Nothing in Clinton's or Rubio's record suggests that either has the judgment to step back from future wars that would weaken the United States—or that they have learned the right lessons from past interventions gone wrong. And neither can offer the excuse that no one anticipated Libya becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

As Time magazine reported in March 2011:

Obama and his aides know they are taking a big risk. “It’s a huge gamble,” says the senior administration official. The administration knows, for example, that al Qaeda, which has active cells in Libya, will try to exploit the power vacuum that will come with a weak or ousted Gaddafi. They also know that the U.S. will have to rely on other countries for the crucial task of rebuilding Libya and that the region may in fact be further destabilized by intervention.

Opponents of intervention within the Obama Administration were ultimately defeated by a faction that included Clinton. Neoconservatives like Rubio cheered the outcome.

There were vocal opponents of intervention too. They included Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Rand Paul, among many others. On matters as varied as the wisdom of the Iraq War, the way the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force would be interpreted, and the prudence of intervening in Libya, the figures I mentioned proved more prescient than the foreign-policy establishment, which continues to regard them as unserious. If so, what does that say about Clinton and Rubio, whose track records compare unfavorably?

And yet, as election season approaches, the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's nomination is a consistent hawk whose failures are reflected in every day's headlines. A political incentive to avoid dumb wars will not survive her victory.