Citing Libya, Clinton Extols Obama’s ‘Smart’ Leadership in ‘Complex, Dangerous World’

By Patrick Goodenough | October 24, 2011 | 5:01 AM EDT

Libyan women flash victory signs during celebration in Benghazi on Sunday, as the transitional government declared liberation after the death of Muammar Gaddafi (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

( – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday praised President Obama’s “smart” foreign policy leadership, pointing to the death of Osama bin Laden, the toppling of Muammar Gadaffi and the announcement that remaining U.S. forces will leave Iraq by year’s end.

While declining to comment directly on the Republican presidential primary – as has long been her custom – Clinton said that Obama repeatedly has shown the type of leadership America and the world needs now.

Republicans generally have given credit to Obama for the operation that led to the fugitive al-Qaeda leader’s death last May. But GOP lawmakers and presidential contenders questioned the president’s approach to the conflict in Libya from the outset, and his announcement Friday confirming that no U.S. troops will remain in Iraq beyond Dec. 31 drew fresh criticism (see related story).

In a series of U.S. television interviews in Uzbekistan on Sunday, Clinton praised Obama’s leadership in what she called “a complex, dangerous world.”

“President Obama has passed with flying colors every leadership challenge,” she told NBC’s Meet the Press.

“I mean, look at what he has done, I mean, just to name a few things,” she continued. “I mean, we were looking for bin Laden for 10 years. It was under President Obama’s leadership that he was finally eliminated.

“Libya, with the kind of smart leadership that the president showed – demonstrating that American leadership was essential, but it was important to try to bring others also into a coalition of efforts – and the objective was achieved; keeping the promise to withdraw from Iraq but not leave Iraq by having a robust security and training mission accompanied by a very large diplomatic presence.”

Clinton did not take up interviewer David Gregory’s invitation to comment on the Republican candidates’ foreign policy competence, except indirectly.

If the player does not load, please check that you are running the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.

“I’m out of politics, as you know, David. I don’t comment on it,” she said. “But I think Americans are going to want to know that they have a steady, experienced, smart hand on the tiller of the ship of state, and there’s no doubt that that’s Barack Obama.”

Clinton also referred to bin Laden and Libya during a Fox News Sunday interview.

“What we’ve seen from President Obama over the last two and a half years, and I think remarkably with the events of the last six months, is that his kind of smart leadership in a complex world is paying off,” she said.

“He was the one who brought bin Laden finally down. He was the one who put together a coalition that eventually removed Gaddafi. So I think it’s important that in this very complex, dangerous world, we have somebody in the White House who understands that America has to lead.”

Interim Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil told a rally of supporters in Benghazi on Sunday that Islam and shari’a would be the core of the new government and constitution, stating specifically that a Gaddafi-era ban on polygamy would be rescinded.

‘Libya snapshot’

Despite Clinton’s analysis of U.S. leadership on Libya other democracies, notably France and Britain, were first to call on Gaddafi to step down last February.

France, Italy and other European countries also recognized the anti-Gaddafi rebel council based in eastern Libya well ahead of the U.S. decision to do so (the U.S. only formally took that step on July 15), and in early March it was Britain and France, not the Obama administration, that were pushing for a no-fly zone over Libya, even as U.S. voices on the left and right were urging Obama to state clearly its approach to the crisis.

Only after the Arab League called for a no-fly zone did the U.S. government throw its weight behind the European-led initiative that led on March 17 to the vote on a Security Council resolution authorizing “all necessary measures” short of foreign occupation to protect civilians under threat from the regime.

Libyan Transitional National Council chairman Mustafa Abdel-Jalil prepares to deliver a speech in Benghazi on Sunday Oct. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

U.S., British and French forces launched airstrikes on March 19, military command of the operation was taken over by NATO on March 24, and at the beginning of April the U.S. moved to a support role.

Republican criticism of the administration early on varied, but themes included a failure to enunciate clear goals, a willingness to allow the French and others to take the lead, deference to multilateral institutions, and insufficient consultation with Congress.

GOP presidential candidates welcomed Gaddafi’s death last week, while some voiced concerns again about reports that lethal weaponry including shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles having gone missing in Libya, and the possibility of them ending up in terrorists’ hands.

Among the strongest critics of the Libya operation was Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who on Sunday repeated her earlier opposition to the decision to intervene, saying it was not clear what the future holds now Gaddafi is gone.

“We don’t know who the next leaders will be,” she said on Fox News Sunday. “Sure there’s a transitional council, but who will the real leadership be that takes over and runs Libya?” she asked, adding that it could be radical Islamists or “elements affiliated with al-Qaeda.”

Bachmann agreed the world was better off without Gaddafi, but cautioned, “We’re only looking at a snapshot today. The last chapter hasn’t been written on Libya.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow