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?

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

soundoff (76 Responses)
  1. deryk houston

    Your posting spreads hate. The last thing this world needs is more of that kind of thinking.
    I don't like Mrs Clinton either. I believe that she is the old guard way of thinking. The younger generation will find new ways to create a better and safer world. I don;t think the Libya solution was successful by any measure. It created the problems now facing us........China and Russia will distrust us and rightfully interpret every move by the UN as an excuse for a few western countries to gain control of another countries resources as they did with Libya.
    Same distrust was created with the invasion of Iraq and th theft of it's resurces. No wonder China and Russia don;t trust the west. We have no one but ourselves to blame.

    July 19, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Reply
  2. KEVIN

    Hillary's legacy sure in hell is not Israel. What a stupid thing for her to do saying anything negative about Iran IN PUBLIC (especially while she is in Israel. She was just throwing fuel on the fire.

    July 19, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Reply
  3. Al

    I hear the name Clinton, and the first two things that come to mind are Monica and Somalia, both of which blew.

    July 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  4. i agree with you

    Hilary Clinton has caused enough wars. Go away cocute!!! Jew puppet

    July 19, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  5. Fred

    The hag Clinton has blood all over her hands with both Libya and Syria. "We came, we saw, He died" with a smirk
    about the murder of Gadaffi. I hope her end is as soon and painful as possible.

    July 19, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
    • George T

      Wow.. .Hate is prolific on this board. Why would anyone intentionally wish for the death of another human being, especially if they have NOTHING to do with you???

      July 20, 2012 at 6:07 am | Reply
      • Aaron Chaney

        Hate is a good thing. Thanks be to allah!

        July 20, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  6. g.r.r.

    Has it escaped ppl's attention that Syrian Rebels have bigger weapons and better training as of late?
    They are suddenly putting it to Assad.
    My guess is that the west is now providing covert aid to them via turkey and Iraq.
    More importantly, I would not be the least bit surprised to find out that we are helping rebels in Iran as part of that.
    IOW, we are about to tie up Iranian gov. as well.

    July 20, 2012 at 12:01 am | Reply
    • g.r.r.

      I have been saying the same thing for several days, and in true muslim tradition, I will keep repeating the same thing until someone responds.

      July 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  7. Megan Grawe

    Hillary's so called legacy will be ovwershadowed by our inept president and his lack of foriegn policy! Lets face it, the Arab spring has been a disaster for "O"bungles through this region of the world. If Hillary is smart she'll keep her mouth shut, because she could come "under fire" for real this time from the white house! ....pun intended!!!

    July 20, 2012 at 2:49 am | Reply
    • George T

      Oust Obama!!!!! DO NOT VOTE FOR HIM...

      July 20, 2012 at 6:15 am | Reply
    • Megan Grawe

      I have no idea what I am saying but my imam/mullah told me to say it and that is good enough for me.

      July 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  8. Aaron Chaney

    Covetousness is a sin. Translation: Tunisia only has received proper remuneration during the so-called Arab Spring because they are an original. All the rest i.e. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and yes Syria, are all covetous copycats.

    All fools who haven't figured this out after that sequential and consistent post should check out this link...

    July 20, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  9. RLTJ's

    Present Libya can thank her. And they better show they deserve it. It did not come cheap to the U.S. Was it worth it?

    July 21, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply
  10. RLTJ's

    LIbya or Syria? Both and beyond anybody can imagine.

    July 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  11. rightospeak

    Paul Wolfowitz wrote it, a "real unbiased opinion" -it says it all. Why is he not in jail for Iraq bloodbath ?

    July 22, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
  12. Cisco Los Angeles

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    September 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
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