President Obama’s reported nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said that the outcome of the United States intervention in Libya has undermined efforts to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
“I think we have to be a little judicious when refer to Libya as a case or model that we can hold up as a successful intervention here as we go into the second decade of the 21st century,” Hagel told US News & World Report last week. “It may turn out that way, it may not, but I think one of the things that did come out of that intervention was a realization that it’s always going to take strong alliances of many countries and interests to do this.”
Obama has made clear that he regards the Libya intervention as an important first-term foreign policy achievement. “Our leadership at NATO has helped guide our coalition,” the president said in October of 2011. “Without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground, we achieved our objectives, and our NATO mission will soon come to an end.”
Hagel, though, thinks that the Libya intervention — because it ended with a change in regime, rather than merely preventing Moammar Gaddafi from slaughtering the rebel residents of Benghazi — has made it more difficult to build coalitions against Iran and Syria.
“If you look at [the Libya intervention], you know that both Russia and China have used that not to go along with tougher UN sanctions on Syria,” Hagel said. “‘You clever fellows tricked us on the Libyan thing; you didn’t talk about regime change, you talked about humanitarian issues. But after all, it was all about regime change.’”
He said the same applies to the difficulty building a coalition against Iran. “We get ourselves all jumbled up on that issue because there are some people in the United States and other countries that push for regime change,” Hagel said. “But once you start that, that’s another ballgame, that’s another direction you’re taking. So you lose sight of all the other strategic interests that should be the focus and, up to the point, have been. Iran’s case, obviously, is the development of the capacity to create nuclear weapons, but if you mix that in Iran with regime change, you’ve got a whole new series of combustible elements. Libya was the same.”