More than Benghazi skeletons should haunt Hillary Clinton’s expected 2016 presidential bid. It now seems that the entire war in Libya – where thousands died in a civil war in which no U.S. interest was at stake – might well have been averted on her watch and, of course, that of President Obama’s. How? In March 2011, immediately after NATO’s punishing bombing campaign began, Muammar Qaddafi was “ready to step aside,” says retired Rear Admiral Charles R. Kubic, U.S. Navy. “He was willing to go into exile and was willing to end the hostilities.”
On March 19, 2011, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, made a dramatic announcement from Paris on behalf of the “international community.”
“Yesterday, President Obama said very clearly that if Qaddafi failed to comply with these terms, there would be consequences,” Clinton said. “Since the president spoke, there has been some talk from Tripoli of a cease-fire, but the reality on the ground tells a very different story. Colonel Gaddafi continues to defy the world. His attacks on civilians go on.”
The following day, March 20, 2011, Kubic says he relayed to the U.S. AFRICOM headquarters Qaddafi’s interest in truce talks as conveyed by a top Libyan commander, Gen. Abdulqader Yusef Dubri, head of Qaddafi’s personal security team. On March 21, 2011, Kubic continued, with the NATO war heating up, a senior aide to Qadaffi, Gen. Ahmed Mamud, directly submitted a set of terms for a 72-hour-truce to Linvill at AFRICOM. The Benghazi commission made the basic text of these terms available to press.
By March 22, Qadaffi had verifiably begun pulling back troops from the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata. The cease-fire Hillary Clinton said the “international community” was seeking only days earlier seemed to be within reach, with the endgame of Qaddafi’s abdication and exile potentially on the table.
Then, shockingly, Kubic got what amounted to a “stand down” order from AFRICOM – an order that came down from “well above Gen. Ham,” Kubic says he was told – in fact, as Kubic said in our interview, he was told it came from outside the Pentagon.
The question becomes, who in the Obama administration scuttled these truce talks that might have resulted in Qaddafi handing over powers without the bloodshed and destruction that left Libya a failed state and led to Benghazi?
Had talks gone forward, there is no guarantee, of course, that they would have been successful. Qaddafi surely would have tried to extract conditions. One of them, Kubic believes, would have been to ensure that Libya continue its war on al-Qaida. Would this have been a sticking point? In throwing support to Islamic jihadists, including al-Qaida-linked “rebels” and Muslim Brotherhood forces, the U.S. was changing sides during that “Arab Spring.” Was the war on Qaddafi part of a larger strategic realignment that nothing, not even the prospect of saving thousands of lives, could deter? Or was the chance of going to war for “humanitarian” reasons too dazzling to lose to the prospect of peace breaking out? Or was it something else?
It’s beyond all of us, I’m afraid – unless a Select Committee on Benghazi finally comes together to do the people’s business.
• Diana West blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.