Clinton’s Legacy: Libya or Syria?
July 18th, 2012
12:09 PM ET

Clinton’s Legacy: Libya or Syria?

By Paul Wolfowitz and Mark Palmer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mark Palmer is a member of the board of Freedom House. Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, and a former U.S. deputy secretary of defense under President George W. Bush. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.

The recent elections in Libya were an emotion-filled celebration of the Libyan people’s thirst for self-government after four decades of extreme tyranny. Admittedly, those elections are only a first step on what will be a long road. And they weren't perfect, but then neither was the NATO military intervention that made those elections possible.

Nonetheless, those elections wouldn’t have happened without that NATO action, which in turn would have been impossible without U.S. support, hesitant and halfhearted though it was. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton can take some quiet satisfaction in the elections, since she was a leading advocate of U.S. military action within the Obama administration, reportedly taking on her very powerful Pentagon colleague, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

This makes it all the more difficult to understand Clinton’s lack of serious action on Syria.

The Secretary of State can no longer pretend that the U.S. is hoping for the success of Kofi Annan’s “peace plan” for Syria. Annan himself, speaking to the French daily Le Monde earlier this month, said that “The evidence shows that we have not succeeded.” While the former U.N. secretary general professes to believe that his plan might be salvaged by making Iran “part of the solution” and has gone to Tehran to do so, White House spokesman Jay Carney has dismissed that approach. “I don’t think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a positive impact on developments in Syria,” he said last Tuesday.

Following the June 30 Geneva conference of the “Syria Action Group,” the Secretary of State has also had to retreat from thinking that Russia was ready to “lean” on the Syrian regime. Her claim, that the text of the agreed communiqué from that conference meant that “Assad will still have to go,” was contradicted almost immediately by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov who complained that “some Western participants” had begun “to distort” the agreements. He firmly asserted that the final communiqué includes no demand for Assad to step down.

Lavrov even said that he thought German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s earlier suggestion that Russia should offer Assad asylum in Russia was a joke, and that he was “quite surprised” to hear some Western powers repeat the suggestion in Geneva. “This is either a dishonest attempt to deceive serious people involved in foreign policy,” he said, “or a misunderstanding of the facts.”

Did Clinton ever really believe that Annan would be able to deliver a peaceful solution in Syria, or that Russia would pressure Assad to accept one? Or was she merely seeking excuses for American inaction?

Whatever the case, Clinton has now shifted to blaming Russia and China. With tough words and a tough tone she called on countries at the so-called “Friends of Syria” meeting in Paris to “demand” that those two veto-wielding countries “get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. . . . I don't think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. . . . That is no longer tolerable.”

Yet, all the U.S. is asking from Russia and China is support at the United Nations for “real and immediate consequences for non-compliance [with the Annan plan], including sanctions” against the Assad regime. No regime that is willing to kill thousands of its citizens will abandon power because of U.N. sanctions.

What the Syrian opposition needs most is support for training, equipping and organizing the Free Syrian Army. By providing that support, the U.S. might also be able to persuade the opposition to provide assurances about a post-Assad Syria that would encourage fence-sitters – including probably many in the Syrian Army, as well as members of the Alawite and Christian minorities – to abandon the regime. That will require working with neighboring countries like Turkey, but it doesn’t need Russian or Chinese approval. The complaints about Russia and China are a diversion from the real issue.

Last year, and at least as recently as this past February, demonstrators in Syria were burning the flags of Russia and China. In one incident last October they actually displayed American, British and French flags in apparent appreciation for words of support from the U.S. and others. But how much longer before they begin to see American weakness or hypocrisy as no different from Russian and Chinese vetoes?

Secretary Clinton was able to prevent Libya from becoming a stain on the Obama administration’s record, the way that Rwanda was for President Clinton and that Bosnia was for both him and the first President Bush. Why, then, is she repeating those earlier mistakes in Syria?

Post by:
Topics: Arab Spring • China • Libya • Russia • Syria • United States

soundoff (76 Responses)
  1. QQ

    Saeed = biggest Troll ever. Dont fall for it...

    July 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Saeed is one of yours QQ–a good muslim doing allah's work.

      July 18, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
    • QQ

      Pat, you have ruined this feed for many folks. Take your trolling somewhere else and stop changing your name, you are not fooling anyone.

      July 18, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Really? Thank you.

      July 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      And, QQ, I hope you will put on your thinking cap before you decide to steal my moniker again.
      You may not like what I post and I may not like what you post but stealing someone's moniker is unacceptable.

      July 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • QQ

      Ok Pat, just layoff the crack pipe. It is the right thing to do...

      July 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • QQ

      About the moniker, I laughed, but it was not me. Remember, say nope to dope.

      July 18, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • QQ

      I am the most interesting person in the world and beyond.

      July 18, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      I eat turds like you for breakfast...

      July 18, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply
    • QQ

      Bukhari: V9B89N256 "Allah's Apostle said, 'You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he is a black African slave whose head looks like a raisin.'"
      Ishaq:450 "It is your folly to fight the Apostle, for Allah's army is bound to disgrace you. We brought them to the pit. Hell was their meeting place. We collected them there, black slaves, men of no descent."
      Ishaq:374 "The black troops and slaves of the Meccans cried out and the Muslims replied, 'Allah destroy your sight, you impious rascals.'"

      July 19, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  2. QQ

    @saeed: Troll

    July 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  3. JAL

    She aint done. Grats to the Syrian opposition for thier commitment to freedom!

    July 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
    • gamersliverfang

      So you support the Mujahideen?
      From AJ

      "This is my urgent message to all Mujahideen from all brigades to join their brothers the Mujahideen of Damascus who are defending the revolution. Those willing to join have to go ... through safe routes to Damascus. It is the moment of truth. It is the Damascus fight for salvation. It is either life, dignity and freedom or martyrdom and paradise."

      Commander of Al-Emary Brigades, Captian Quais Quatana's statement for all Syrian Mujahideen

      July 18, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  4. Lee

    BBC world news editor: Houla massacrecoverage based on opposition propaganda.

    July 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • anon

      you do know that BBC reports at or only right?

      July 19, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  5. Lee

    Syria ? This one news link shows that How American are brain washed . Their government is war monger and not peacefull .

    July 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
    • Lee

      Tabari IX:69 "Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah's helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in Allah's Cause. Killing him is a small matter to us."

      July 19, 2012 at 9:21 am | Reply
  6. Marine5484

    Here's Hilary Clinton Almighty again. Whatever her legacy may be, she certainly did her part in making ours the most hated nation in the world today. Her strong arm tactics are really nauseating as she strides the globe on her high horse playing the world's top bully!

    July 18, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • Marine5484

      Let it be known that I am not American, I am Islamic pig and I will do anything and everything to put down the civilized world, I am a total idiot and probably the result of a brother-sister "marriage". Allahuakbarh!

      July 19, 2012 at 8:54 am | Reply
  7. Patrick-2

    Thank you, saeed. Well said.

    July 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  8. Patrick

    I feel the same way, saeed. By the way, just ignore the bozo below who usurped my screen name in order to to ridicule you. I'm the true Patrick here and I like your posts.

    July 18, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      My muslim friend, you can have the moniker but you will pay the consequences for your theft.

      July 18, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    The two authors – Palmer and the hawkish Wolfowitz – seem to see military intervention as a standard operating procedure. It's easy for them to criticise Hilary Clinton for her inconsistency in handling the Syrian crisis. The conflict in Libya was quite different from the one in Syria. Indeed Hilary Clinton has reasons to blame China and Russia for their reluctance to pass any resolution that would hurt Assad. For these two countries Syria is just a political game ball. They are callous and don't care about the sufferings of ordinary Syrians. In fact they had these grievances in their history: millions died in the course of tragic events like revolutions, civil wars and famine.

    July 19, 2012 at 3:54 am | Reply
  10. Jared Rader

    For some more in-depth understanding of the current situation in Syria, I'd recommend checking out Democracy Now! today – they're talking with journalist David Enders based in Beirut; a Damascus-based activist and Assad biographer David Lesch. Check it out:

    July 19, 2012 at 8:27 am | Reply
  11. Irfan

    As most “Star Wars” fans know, director George Lucas took spiritual elements, which are common in most major world religions to create his epic saga of good vs. evil. As a Muslim, I always thought of the “Jedi” as what a true follower of Islam should be like. Never mind the fact Jedi masters with their North African style cloaks and scruffy beards look like Sufi Sheikhs, but they way they are taught to respect a greater power, fight for the defense of the innocent and honor a code of morals and ethics in order to bring about peace and justice to their society, is basically what Islam teaches all Muslims to strive for. So what really is the connection between these similar Islamic principles and the fictional “Jedi Order” of the Star Wars saga?

    July 19, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  12. Irfan

    Behead those who say Islam is violent

    July 19, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  13. KRM1007

    Ishaq:243 "I heard the Apostle say: 'Whoever wants to see Satan should look at Nabtal!' He was a black man with long flowing hair, inflamed eyes, and dark ruddy cheeks.... Allah sent down concerning him: 'To those who annoy the Prophet there is a painful doom." [9:61] "Gabriel came to Muhammad and said, 'If a black man comes to you his heart is more gross than a donkey's.'"

    July 19, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
  14. KRM1007

    Qur'an 9:97 "The Arabs of the desert are the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy, and most fitted to be in ignorance of the command which Allah hath sent down to His Messenger."

    July 19, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
  15. dd

    Clinton was controlled by Obama. Obama decided to let the Muslims kill each other and let Syria become an unstable hotbed of terrorist violence. That is not bad. Muslims seem to have a basic morality problem. They either respect life of they don't and they either respect other people's belief's of they don't. The generality from the middle east is that muslims don't respect life of the opinions of other people. Maximizing the loss of life for inhuman behavior is not immoral.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
    • dd

      What colour is the sky in my world? It is red, just like the blood of unbelievers (Kafirs).

      July 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  16. plumnelly

    Arabs are only united when there are preceived infidels to fight. So called insurgents flocked to Iraq to fight the infidels. Any outside military intervention regarding this Syrian nightmare would only fuel other jihadist to come and fight the outsiders. You can't when em all. Let this civil war take its course. It's also silly to think the US could force Assad to do anything outside of military force. The Russians, Chinese and Iranians are betting on Assad. We all lose if Assad loses. Who then controls their chemical weapons?

    July 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • plumnelly

      Qur'an 9:71 "O Prophet, strive hard [fighting] against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be harsh with them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed."
      Qur'an 8:59 "The infidels should not think that they can get away from us. Prepare against them whatever arms and weaponry you can muster so that you may terrorize them."
      Qur'an 4:168 "Those who reject [Islamic] Faith, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them to any path except the way to Hell, to dwell therein forever. And this to Allah is easy."
      Qur'an 4:114 "He who disobeys the Apostle after guidance has been revealed will burn in Hell."

      July 19, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  17. Socrates

    Clinton's legacy, Libia or Syria? I said Monica.

    July 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  18. John S

    Well Fareed, seems you have a few whackos making random unrelated remarks here. Re: Syria, I am American and not partial one way or the other. The media, for all their hullabaloo about Syria, has not advised me yet just who the opposition is. And, in fact, the last I remember hearing from Annan was that the UN had no idea what or who makes up the opposition. I can't fault the Secretary of State for holding back on this issue. I'm guessing we're partially regretting Egypt and dreading that we may yet regret Libya. Politically speaking, friendly dictators may be better allies than the unknown. It's a very sad fact.

    July 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply
    • John S

      I may have an American passport but my only allegiance is to allah the magnificent and his profiteer Moorhamed.
      Get it? Got it? Good!

      July 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  19. Socrates

    Bukhari:V1B4N137 "Allah's Apostle said, 'The prayer of a person who does Hadath (passes urine, stool or wind) is not accepted till he performs ablution.'"
    Bukhari:V1B4N139 "I asked Allah's Apostle about a person who imagined they passed wind during prayer. He replied: 'He should not leave his prayer unless he hears sound or smells something.'"

    July 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • The Black Widow


      July 19, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  20. xfiler93

    go back your mud hut MUSTAFA and hump your camel.

    July 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  21. George T

    Wow. I can't believe anyone would write something so evil and hateful in a public forum. Sounds like a threat to me. I certainly hope that Mrs. Clinton's security detail has been informed and will make certain that she is safe. WOW.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  22. George T

    So, the question is: "Why has the United States (Hillary Clinton) been so quiet about Syria? Well, let's just give the bottom line here: Do the letters and numbers WW III make anyone take notice? If the United States were to intervene in that insanity, China and Russia would certainly take that as threat and use the USA's interference as justification to start a war to end all wars. Let's not forget, Iran is certainly waiting for an opportunity to jump in and wipe Israel out with a quickness... So, unfortunately, the US could not involve itself for this very reason. God's plan folks.

    July 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • George T

      Okay, so I realize I sound pretty ignorant.
      I really think that all everyone wants to do is Jihad. This peace business is new to me and I dislike it.
      BTW I meant to say "Allah's plan folks".

      July 19, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Reply
      • George T

        I don't understand what your post suggests. But, I do know this– most wars have been fought in the name of God, Allah, and anything else you want to call the "creator." So, in reality, does religion really make this world a better place? Not too sure about that.

        July 20, 2012 at 6:02 am |
      • George T

        No, I did NOT mean to say "Allah's" plan at all. I don't worship Allah...So, don't misinterpret what I said. Allah does not exist in my world! Thank you! As far as i'm concerned, many atrocities have been caused by your so-called Allah! I don't want anything to do with anything that is connected with the terrible acts committed in the name of "Allah." NO GOD would want what stupid human beings do to each other.... Thank You!

        July 20, 2012 at 6:05 am |
  23. Gopherit

    There must be typical Neocon motives behind this article, given the authors' backgrounds. That must be some sort of U.S. imperialism. Also, given the dangers for minoirities in other regional countries which have had recent revolutions, the article's suggestion that minorities which might become targets following any deposing of al-Assad should be persuaded to support the revolution is very questionalble.

    July 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply
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