The loss of Chris Stevens was a double blow to United States policy. First, he was the most knowledgeable United States official on what was happening. Second, in the aftermath of the attack that took his life, Libya became radioactive in Washington circles. Nobody wanted to touch it. When I visited the embassy in Tripoli shortly after Chris’s death, the embassy staff had shrunk to single digits, guarded by 150 Marines. It was a fortress, not a facility for engagement.
United States policy never recovered. Though Mrs. Clinton must continue to defend herself against the select committee’s charges, she could and should pivot to a discussion of policies on Libya that will better protect American interests in the future.
Mrs. Clinton has much to be proud of. As she pointed out in the CNN debate, she was one of the chief architects of the NATO intervention that saved tens of thousands of lives and freed Libya from the grips of Colonel Qaddafi’s brutal 42-year dictatorship. That would have been a signature foreign policy achievement for Mrs. Clinton and President Obama had the United States not disengaged in Libya. Mr. Obama conceded this in his recent speech to the United Nations: “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.”
But Libya is not a lost cause.