To make a difference going forward, Trey Gowdy and the House’s Benghazi select committee may want to ask how the U.S. got involved in Libya in the first place. What they will discover is that Barack Obama borrowed a page from the Clinton playbook on Kosovo, a lethal exercise in mendacity unparalleled in recent American history. Much of the mischief I unearthed in my forthcoming book, You Lie!, I expected to find. This nugget surprised me.
In his March 2011 address to the nation, Barack Obama laid out the case for America’s surprise military intervention in Libya. “We knew that if we . . .waited one more day,” said Obama, “Benghazi, a city nearly the size of Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.” Two days earlier in a radio address, Obama used the word “bloodbath” to describe Benghazi’s likely fate at the hand of strongman Moammar Qadaffi.
Less than two months before America went to war, however, Obama had not so much as mentioned this benighted country in his State of the Union address. As late as September 2009, John McCain was meeting with Qaddafi in Tripoli and describing his regime as “an important ally in the war on terrorism.” Then, just eighteen months later, Obama was asking America to believe Qaddafi was about to smear a Rwanda-sized stain on “the conscience of the world.”
If Obama did not know, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certainly knew how the media would react when a Democrat president launched an unauthorized air war. In 1999, Serbian authorities were attempting to suppress an insurrection by ethnic Albanian Muslims in the Kosovo province of their fracturing nation. Like Obama, President Bill Clinton had not bothered getting congressional approval before unleashing America’s air power.
To bolster public support, Clinton and his people began a drumbeat about mass graves, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. As in Libya, there was no stated reason for this war other than to prevent genocide. The State Department’s David Scheffer was the first of many to claim a six-figure death count, specifically “upwards of about 100,000 [Islamic] men that we cannot account for” in Kosovo. President Clinton compared the work of the Serbs in Kosovo to the German “genocide” of the Jews during the Holocaust and assured America that “tens of thousands of people” had been murdered.
In the war’s wake, however, international teams could find no signs of genocide. The ethnic Albanian dead numbered in the hundreds, not in the hundreds of thousands. Spanish forensic surgeon Emilio Perez Pujol would tell the British Sunday Times that the talk of genocide was “a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one — not one — mass grave.” In 2001, a United Nations court ruled, “Serbian troops did not carry out genocide against ethnic Albanians.”
For the Libyan conflict, Alan Kuperman, a Democrat and author of The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention, did the calculations that the media refused to do. Just two weeks after the president’s address on Libya, Kuperman made the simple point, “The best evidence that Khadafy did not plan genocide in Benghazi is that he did not perpetrate it in the other cities he had recaptured.” He cited the Human Rights Watch data from Misurata, a city of 400,000 that Qaddafi’s forces had recently seized. There, in nearly two months of war, only 257 people were killed, including combatants. In Rwanda by contrast, more than 800,000 Tutsis were killed in just ninety days.
What did happen in Libya, Kuperman explained, is that rebel forces, fearing imminent defeat, faked a humanitarian crisis. On March 14, a rebel spokesman told Reuters that if Khadafy attacked Benghazi, there would be “a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda.’’ On March 21, The New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick reported, “The rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.”
No matter, the U.S. military had already started bombing. A month later, Obama co-signed a letter claiming, “The bloodbath that he had promised to inflict on the citizens of the besieged city of Benghazi has been prevented.” In the retelling, the “he” doing the promising was Qaddafi. In reality, the only people who promised bloodbaths were the rebel spokesmen and the Western leaders. By this time, Obama had to know that the pretext for war was false, but he would continue to pursue it for another six deadly months.
As the insurgency dragged on, the insurgents began spreading the myth that Qaddafi had been using African mercenaries. This falsehood, said the Times, “Rebels repeat as fact over and over.” Fired up by rumors of black mercenaries on Viagra-fueled rape sprees, the rebels did some ethnic cleansing on their own. Patrick Cockburn of the Independent saw the evidence up close. “Any Libyan with a black skin accused of fighting for the old regime may have a poor chance of survival,” he concluded. Obama chose not to notice. These young men may have looked like his son, but they were not being killed in a battleground state during an election year.
On October 20, 2011, militia members took Qaddafi prisoner, indelicately sodomized him with a knife, and captured it all on video. They then threw Qaddafi, still breathing, onto a pickup truck. When the truck pulled away, he promptly fell off. Said a giddy Obama in a Rose Garden speech about this Keystone Cops-meets-Mad Max muddle, “The dark shadow of tyranny has been lifted.” In claiming victory, Obama championed the victors and made Libya his personal success story. This would have consequences not too far down the road.
If the major media were willing to endorse Obama’s narrative, Alan Kuperman was not. Writing for the Harvard Kennedy School’s International Security journal in 2013, Kuperman unspun the web of deception that the Libyan rebels and their NATO enablers had woven. “The biggest misconception about NATO’s intervention,” wrote Kuperman, “is that it saved lives and benefited Libya and its neighbors.”
In fact, Qaddafi did not attack peaceful protesters. The rebels started the violence, and Qaddafi responded. Barely six weeks after the rebellion started, Qaddafi had all but suppressed it at the cost of about one thousand lives. Then Obama authorized NATO intervention. That intervention prolonged the war seven months and cost roughly seven thousand more lives. At war’s end, rebels killed scores of the former enemy in reprisal killings and exiled some 30,000 black Africans.
During the insurrection, the Obama administration had been funneling money to Qatar to help arm Libyans rebels. As the Times reported more than a year after the fact, “The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.” After the fall of Qaddafi, these groups refused to disarm and continued to resist government authority.
In the midst of this mess, in early April 2011, American special representative Chris Stevens arrived in Libya on board a Greek freighter. His job was to research the various groups involved in the Qaddafi opposition and report back to Washington. Obama would reward his loyalty and courage with the most disturbing lies of his long, dishonest career.