Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized the humanitarian rationale for the U.S. military intervention in Libya, recalling instances from recent history when a lack of U.S. intervention had left hundreds of thousands dead.
In an interview with ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper on “This Week,” Clinton said that the United Nations-backed military intervention in Libya “is a watershed moment in international decision making. We learned a lot in the 1990s. We saw what happened in Rwanda. It took a long time in the Balkans, in Kosovo to deal with a tyrant. But I think in what has happened since March 1st, and we're not even done with the month, demonstrates really remarkable leadership.”
Appearing with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – the two secretaries first joint interview since the Libya operation began – Clinton played out a hypothetical of what non-intervention by the United States might have looked like.
“Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi,” the Libyan opposition forces’ stronghold, “had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered, hundreds of thousands had fled and, as Bob [Gates] said, either with nowhere to go or overwhelming Egypt while it's in its own difficult transition. And we were sitting here, the cries would be, why did the United States not do anything?” she said
“Why -- how could you stand by when, you know, France and the United Kingdom and other Europeans and the Arab League and your Arab partners were saying you've got to do something,” Clinton told Tapper.
In an interview on “This Week” in December, 2007, Clinton told George Stephanopoulos that she urged President Clinton to intervene in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide there.
Then-Senator Clinton said, “I believe that our government failed. … I think that for me it was one of the most poignant and difficult experiences when I met with Rwandan refugees in Kampala, Uganda, shortly after the genocide ended and I personally apologized to women whose arms had been hacked off who had seen their husbands and children murdered before their very eyes and were at the bottom of piles of bodies, and then when I was able to go to Rwanda and be part of expressing our deep regrets because we didn't speak out adequately enough and we certainly didn't take action,” she told Stephanopoulos.
The New York Times reported that Clinton, along with National Security aide Samantha Power and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, helped convince President Obama to take action on Libya. Rice, who worked on Africa issues for President Clinton during the genocide in Rwanda, in which up to a million people were slaughtered, has expressed regret for not doing more to encourage intervention to stop the killing. Powers, formerly a journalist, wrote the seminal book on U.S. non-intervention during massive humanitarian crises.
The White House vehemently denied that Clinton, Powers and Rice were instrumental in pushing the President to approve the Libya intervention.