Clinton's Obama attack shows scale of foreign policy debacle

Clinton's Obama attack shows scale of foreign policy debacle
In-depth: As the Democratic race for America's presidential nominee intensifies, Obama's foreign policy record, especially related to the Middle East, is coming under increasing fire.
4 min read
15 April, 2016
Clinton has attempted to distance herself from the Libya intervention decision [Getty]
US Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton traded fierce blows at an event described by some observers as a "slugfest" of a debate.

The polite exchanges of previous debates were cast aside, as New York's borough of Brooklyn was treated to the angriest and most heated of clashes between the two rivals on Thursday night, where at times they drowned out one another with their shouting.

It was in this final debate before the New York primary, however, that attacks on President Barack Obama became more pronounced.

Mistakes in Libya

Indeed, while Sanders stealthily attacked the US president under the cloak of criticising politicians funded by Super PACs, Clinton affirmed her foreign policy disagreements with Obama.

Sanders tried to
back foot the former secretary of state for her centrality in US' disastrous Libya intervention.

"The decision was the president's. Did I do the due diligence? Did I talk to everybody I could talk to? Did I visit every capital and then report back to the president?" Clinton retorted.

 Clinton defends her Libya involvement [CNN]

"Yes, I did," she continued, "That's what a secretary of state does. But at the end of the day, those are the decisions that are made by the president to, in any way, use American military power, and the president made that decision and, yes, we did try without success because of the Libyans' obstruction to our efforts, but we did try and we will continue to try to help the Libyan people."

Clinton's attempt to downplay her role in the Libya affair, however, flies in the face of statements made by US officials who were involved at the time, as well as secret audio recordings that revealed how she was instrumental in shutting down communications cables with the Gaddafi regime that could have led to a diplomatic settlement.

Sanders, who currently trails behind Clinton in the national polls, conceded that he had voted in favour of the intervention. 

But he said that his actions were "very different from getting actively involved to overthrow and bring about regime change without fully understanding what the consequence of that regime change would be."

Misguided in Iraq and Syria

The former first lady's criticism of the president also extended to his handling of Syria and Iraq, which again followed a volley of attacks from Sanders.

When asked about whether he trusted Clinton's judgement, Sanders lambasted Clinton's support for the Iraq war, which he described as the "worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country".

Sanders lambasted Clinton's support for the Iraq war, which he described as the 'worst foreign policy blunder in the history of this country'

The senator for Vermont also criticised Clinton's backing of a no-fly zone over Syria, which he cast aside as an expensive idea that could cause the US to be "sucked into perpetual warfare in that region".

Again, Clinton fired back with a defence buttressed by a few jabs at the incumbent president.

"Yes, when I was secretary of state, I did urge along with the Department of Defence and the CIA that we seek out, vet and train and arm Syrian opposition figures so that they could defend themselves against Assad," Clinton said.

"The president said no. Now, that's how it works. People who work for the president make recommendations and then the president makes the decision," she continued.

"So I think it's only fair to look at where we are in Syria today and, yes, I do still support a no-fly zone because I think we need to put in safe havens for those poor Syrians who are fleeing both Assad and the Islamic State group, so they have some place they can be safe."

Firing shots at a popular incumbent – a Gallup poll recently showed that Obama's approval ratings were at their highest since 2013 – would normally be unwise for a presidential hopeful from the same party.

The fact that Clinton felt able to target Obama, however, is perhaps telling of the sheer scale of the catastrophe that is America's involvement in the Middle East's recent conflicts.
Indeed, the President himself has been more frank in recent days about his failures as commander-in-chief, admitting on the weekend that the Libya intervention was the "worst mistake" of his presidency. 

After the 'worst mistake'

Although Libya is currently under the official authority of a unity government in Tripoli, hopes for stability remain weak, with the country's powerful rival factions still refusing to comply.

Since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has effectively become a failed state, with the country becoming host to an increasing IS group presence.

A UN monitoring report released in March said that the IS group had "significantly expanded" in Libya, warning that the country's collapse had made it an attractive destination for foreign fighters.

Libya's collapse and current state of uncertainty is testament to the failure of Obama's foreign policy –something that nobody, including the president and his own party – is under any illusions about