Experts: US Congress misses the picture on Benghazi | News | DW | 22.10.2015
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Experts: US Congress misses the picture on Benghazi

Hillary Clinton faces renewed questions from Congress about the 2012 attack on a US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. Experts say Washington hasn't taken responsibility for the root cause – Libya's instability.

Democrats say the investigation is a partisan effort to damage Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House. Republicans say they're trying to uncover the truth.

On September 11, 2012, Islamist militants laid siege to an American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. US Ambassador Christopher Stevens died in the attack. He had previously requested additional security. The State Department under Hillary Clinton denied those requests.

Seven investigations into the events at Benghazi have been completed. None have concluded that senior Obama administration officials were negligent in their response or orchestrated a cover up.

Clinton will testify on Thursday to the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi, which is leading the eighth investigation into the attack. According to analyst Hafed al-Ghwell, both sides are ignoring the bigger picture of violence and instability in Libya that precipitated Stevens' death.

Four years ago this week, Moammar Gadhafi was killed by NATO-backed rebels. As in the case of Iraq, the United States and its allies supported regime change with no plan for what came next.

"When that happens, the US ends up creating a much bigger problem for itself and the world," Al-Ghwell, a Libya expert at the Atlantic Council, told DW. "Then we usually have to go back and clean it up with much more treasure and lives at stake."

Lybien US Konsulat in Bengasi nach dem Angriff 2012

The US consulate following the September 2012 attacks

'World powers pulled out'

Libya has been in constant state of turmoil since the collapse of the Gadhafi regime. By the president of the United States' own admission, Washington and its NATO allies miscalculated.

"Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind," President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly in September.

After helping rebel militias topple Gadhafi by providing air support, NATO turned the task of reconstruction and stabilization over to the UN. The world body's mission, however, lacked concrete authority in Libya.

"They didn't have the mandate," Barak Barfi, an expert on Libya at the New America Foundation, told DW. "They had a supervisory role to provide advice. They couldn't implement things. The world powers pulled out."

'Engagement not serious'

Libya was left without a functioning government or a military. The militias that toppled the regime refused to demobilize. Those who had cooperated with Gadhafi were barred from public office, depriving the country of needed technical expertise, according to Barfi.

Libyen Plakat von Muammar al Gaddafi auf der Erde in Tripolis

Libya descended into chaos shortly after Gadhafi's violent ouster

In August of 2014, Islamist militants forced the internationally recognized government to flee Tripoli in the west for Tobruk in the east. There are now two competing authorities in Libya. Recent UN attempts, backed by Washington, to form a national unity government have failed.

"The engagement was not high level enough and serious enough to bring the parties together to solve their problems," Bari said.

'Political sinkhole'

The consequences have been catastrophic. According to the UN, 2.4 million of Libya's 6 million people need some form of aid. Under Gadhafi's dictatorship, Libya was not free, but it was relatively wealthy due to its large oil reserves and small population. The country is now on the verge of economic collapse as rival militias fight over the oil fields.

Libya's borders are uncontrolled. The country is twice the size of France and has nearly 2,000 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline. Islamic State militants have gained a foothold amidst the chaos. Refugees are fleeing across the sea for Europe. Thousands have died during the voyage.

"We've created a destabilizing, political sinkhole," Al-Ghwell said. "Libya is a small country in terms of population, but in terms of size and location it has more significance than even Egypt."

Justification questioned

The original justification for the 2011 NATO air campaign is being challenged. At the time, Secretary of State Clinton warned that tens of thousands of civilians might be slaughtered if Gadhafi's forces were allowed to retake Benghazi, the home of the uprising.

Libyen Demonstration in Bengasi gegen eine Einheitsregierung

Libyan protestors in Benghazi demonstrate against a unity government

According to a three-part series by the conservative Washington Times, US intelligence had no information pointing to an impending massacre in Benghazi. Defense officials received information that Gadhafi had actually ordered his forces not to fire on civilians, according to the Times.

In a report by the liberal New Republic, current and former officials with Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group cast doubt on the narrative of an impending massacre in Benghazi, though Gadhafi's forces did kill unarmed protesters during the uprising.

During the Democratic presidential debate, Clinton defended her position on Libya, calling the intervention "smart power at its best." According to Barfi, Clinton's position on Libya is in keeping with her past record on military intervention.

"She's an interventionist," Barfi said. "She supported the invasion of Iraq; she supported the no-fly zone in Libya; and she supported arming the Syrian rebels very early on. She supports a very muscular foreign policy. That is what she believes in."

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