WAPO Exclusive- Hillary’s war: How conviction replaced skepticism in Libya intervention
At 5:45 p.m. on March 19, three hours before the official start of the air campaign over Libya, four French Rafale jet fighters streaked across the Mediterranean coastline to attack a column of tanks heading toward the rebel city of Benghazi. The jets quickly obliterated their targets—and in doing so nearly upended the international alliance coming to Benghazi’s rescue.
France’s head start on the air war infuriated Italy’s prime minister, who accused Paris of upstaging NATO. Silvio Berlusconi warned darkly of cutting access to Italian air bases vital to the alliance’s warplanes.
“It nearly broke up the coalition,” said a European diplomat who had a front-row seat to the events and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters between allies. Yet, the rift was quickly patched, thanks to a frenzied but largely unseen lobbying effort that kept the coalition from unraveling in its opening hours.
“That,” the diplomat said, “was Hillary.”
Seven months later, with longtime American nemesis Moammar Gaddafi dead and Libya’s onetime rebels now in charge, the coalition air campaign has emerged as a foreign policy success for the Obama administration and its most famous Cabinet member, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Some Republicans derided the effort as “leading from behind” while many others questioned why President Obama was entangling the nation in another overseas military campaign that had little strategic urgency and scant public support. But with NATO operations likely ending this week, U.S. officials and key allies are offering a detailed new defense of the approach and Clinton’s pivotal role — both within a divided Cabinet and a fragile, assembled-on-the-fly international alliance.
What emerges from these accounts is a picture of Clinton using her mixture of political pragmatism and tenacity to referee spats among NATO partners, secure crucial backing from Arab countries and tutor rebels on the fine points of message-management.
Clinton, in an interview, acknowledged “periods of anguish and buyer’s remorse” during the seven months of the campaign. But she said, “We set into motion a policy that was on the right side of history, on the right side of our values, on the right side of our strategic interests in the region.”