Hillary Clinton's extreme hawkishness is based on sheer fantasy: Like a true neocon, she's deluding herself over her foreign policy disasters

In the Brooklyn debate, Hillary peddled lies to defend U.S. policy in Libya & Syria. Bernie condemned regime change

Published April 15, 2016 5:00PM (EDT)

 Hillary Clinton  (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Hillary Clinton (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

It appears that Hillary Clinton will never learn.

In the presidential debate in Brooklyn on Thursday night, Clinton only continued to prove that she's never seen a war she didn't like.

She forcefully justified the disastrous NATO war in Libya, peddling lies to defend the indefensible. Propagating fantastical neocon talking points that have little basis in reality, she also insisted that violence continues to plague Syria because the U.S. did not bomb the country.

Her opponent Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was a rare voice of reason. He took a firm stance against Clinton's extreme hawkishness, and called for a much more careful foreign policy.

Host Wolf Blitzer began the foreign policy segment of the debate emphasizing that President Obama singled out the 2011 NATO war in Libya as the worst mistake he has made in office.

Clinton, who played a uniquely hands-on role in the war, stood by her past decisions.

"I think we did a great deal to help the Libyan people after Qaddafi's demise," the former secretary of state declared, referring to the late Libyan dictator who was brutally killed in the war. (After he was sodomized with a bayonet by rebels, Clinton gloated live on television, "We came, we saw, he died!")

Clinton conceded that the U.S. policies did not exactly work out, but grossly understated just how bad things are in Libya today.

Five years later, the oil-rich North African nation is roiled by violence and chaos. A civil war rages on, and the country is divided, swaths of it under the control not of a central government, but of rival militias.

Thousands of Libyans have been killed; hundreds of thousands more have been displaced. Amidst the turmoil, extremist groups have flourished. In Libya, ISIS has carved out its largest so-called caliphate outside of Iraq and Syria.

Sanders recognized this.

"Regime change often has unintended consequences," he said, noting that "ISIS has a very dangerous foothold" now in Libya.

"I think if you studied the whole history of American involvement in regime change, you see that quite often," Sanders added. The self-declared democratic socialist has made foreign policy history by publicly blasting U.S. regime change in the Middle East and Latin America in numerous presidential debates.

Sanders is right. The illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq created the conditions for the rise of ISIS and the spread of extremist groups like al-Qaeda throughout the Middle East. Even former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who backed the war, has admitted as much.

Clinton, on the other hand, continues to believe in neocon fantasies.

"We got rid of the chemical weapons stockpile that Qaddafi had, getting it out of Libya, getting it away from militias or terrorist groups," Clinton boasted, defending the NATO intervention.

In reality, the war in Libya actually did the opposite of what she implies. An investigation by the New York Times revealed how the enormous weapons caches held by Qaddafi spread throughout the region after his government was toppled.

"The dictator had stashed an astonishing quantity of weapons in the desert," the Times wrote. These arms ended up in the hands of countless rebel groups, including extremist militias. Since then, the weapons have been found in Tunisia, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, Gaza, Lebanon and even Syria.

So much for getting weapons "away from militias or terrorist groups."

This was not the only lie Clinton peddled in the debate. She also implied that the NATO war in Libya was humanitarian, to protect civilians.

We now know that this is completely false. The war, from the very beginning, was about overthrowing Qaddafi and his government. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Micah Zenko has detailed how "the Libyan intervention was about regime change from the very start."

"This is the same type of mentality that supported the war in Iraq," Sanders shot back to Clinton.

He cited the aforementioned New York Times investigation, which details how Secretary of State Clinton was the single most important American official to push for the war, convincing a wary President Obama to do what he now seriously regrets.

"I surely have always supported Libya moving to democracy. But please do not confuse that with your active effort for regime change without contemplating what happened the day after," Sanders stressed. "Totally different issue."

On Syria, the difference between Sanders' and Clinton's foreign policy could hardly have been more stark.

Clinton lamented that the U.S. was not more aggressive militarily in Syria, essentially blaming the continued violence on the failure of the U.S. to bomb the government of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Somewhat contradicting herself, however, she later boasted that, as secretary of state, she worked with the Pentagon and the CIA to "vet, and train and arm" Syrian rebels.

The U.S. and its allies have poured weapons into Syria. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have even supported extremist groups in the war, including Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra. Contrary to what Clinton insists, all this has done is further fuel the violence, not stop it.

This idea pushed by Clinton, that the U.S. has been hands-off in Syria, is a common talking point among hawkish pundits and neocon journalists, but it is a thoroughly spurious notion. The U.S. and its allies — along with Iran and Russia on the other side — have only exacerbated the war in Syria from day one, accelerating the bloodshed.

Sanders refused to take it. "Secretary Clinton made this charge in previous debates and just repeating it doesn't make it truer," he asserted.

"You keep referring to Barack Obama all night here, but you in Syria talked about a no-fly zone, which the president certainly does not support, nor do I support," he added.

A no-fly zone would have to be militarily backed — meaning if the Assad regime violated it, the U.S. would have to directly militarily intervene to enforce it. A no-fly zone is in fact what led to the catastrophic war in Libya. It is an indirect call for military intervention.

Sanders lambasted the proposal, warning that imposing a no-fly zone "runs the risk of getting us sucked into perpetual warfare in that region."

In previous debates, Clinton and Sanders have butted heads on foreign policy, but their extreme differences have rarely been as stark.

Clinton was so hawkish, in fact, one could practically see the hearts in her eyes when she began waxing poetic on NATO.

"NATO has been the most successful military alliance in probably human history," she proclaimed.

Quite a bold statement.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Bernie Sanders Elections 2016 Hillary Clinton Libya Nato Presidential Debates Syria War