Politics & Policy

NR Exclusive: Blumenthal’s E-Mail to Hillary on Spinning Qaddafi’s Fall

Sidney Blumenthal arrives to testify on Benghazi on June 16. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Although Hillary Clinton prefers to describe Sidney Blumenthal as nothing but “an old friend,” NR has obtained an exclusive copy of one of the now-infamous e-mails he sent Clinton on the war in Libya, and it suggests otherwise. The e-mail, which Blumenthal provided to Benghazi Committee investigators earlier this week, shows him advising Clinton on a most delicate matter: How she should respond to the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi.

Blumenthal e-mailed a list of talking points to Clinton the day after rebel forces captured Tripoli, prefaced by a congratulatory statement exhorting the former presidential candidate to make sure she received credit for the U.S. intervention in Libya. The message was only recently provided by Blumenthal to the congressional panel investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks, despite Clinton’s previous assurance that she had turned over “all” her correspondence pertaining to Libya.

“First, brava! This is a historic moment and you will be credited for realizing it,” he wrote in the August 22, 2011 memo to Clinton. “When Qaddafi himself is finally removed, you should of course make a public statement before the cameras wherever you are, even in the driveway of your vacation house. You must go on camera. You must establish yourself in the historical record at this moment. The most important phrase is ‘successful strategy.’”

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Blumenthal’s e-mail, included below, provides a window into how Clinton’s brain-trust plotted her movements in the days leading up to the fall of Qaddafi’s regime. It also makes explicit the degree to which her advisers misjudged the situation on the ground in Libya and the Middle East, and shows that her team wasn’t above making foreign-policy statements with an eye on President Obama’s looming reelection bid — and her own political future.

‘When Qaddafi himself is finally removed, you should of course make a public statement before the cameras wherever you are, even in the driveway of your vacation house.’

The longtime Clinton loyalist expressed contempt for the “flamingly stupid ‘leading from behind’ phrase” that a White House official coined to summarize Obama’s foreign-policy doctrine. “To refute this passive construction on US policy and help remove it as an albatross from the administration as it enters the election year, do not be defensive but rather simply explain that the US had a strategy from the start, stuck with it and has succeeded,” Blumenthal wrote.

Clinton echoed that sentiment while cooperating with CBS for a story about how she formed an international coalition against Qaddafi in the absence of direct orders from the president. “We set into motion a policy that was on the right side of history, on the right side of our values, on the right side of our strategic interests in the region,” she is quoted in the story, published Oct. 31, 2011.

A week earlier, she had “established herself in the historical record,” as Blumenthal advised, but she did so by visiting Tripoli rather than with an impromptu speech from her the driveway of her vacation home. “I am proud to stand here on the soil of a free Libya,” she said during the trip. “The opportunity now in Libya is to not only chart a new future for Libyans but to stand as a model for democracy and freedom.” The statement comports with Blumenthal’s suggestion that Clinton emphasize that the Libyan intervention “helped advance the cause of democracy and freedom throughout the Arab world.”

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Blumenthal also advised Clinton to tie the Libyan intervention to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s struggle to stay in power. “We have put Assad on notice that the sands of time have run out for him as well,” he wrote in the talking points. Clinton did not make such a claim in the battery of interviews she conducted during the Libya trip, but she waged an internal struggle from 2011 to 2012 to persuade President Obama to back the Syrian rebels. (He refused, but Blumenthal must have appreciated Obama’s statement that the death of Qaddafi signaled to the Middle East that “the rule of an iron fist inevitably comes to an end.”)

Blumenthal concluded with a flourish, invoking the ancient Greek goddess who functioned as the Muse of History. “This is a very big moment historically and for you,” he wrote. “History will tell your part in it. You are vindicated. But don’t wait, help Clio now.”

On August 8, 2012 — just under a year after Blumenthal wrote his triumphant note — U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens sent a cable to the State Department warning of a “security vacuum” in Benghazi to buttress his repeated requests for increased security. “His requests for additional security were denied or ignored,” according to a colleague. On September 11, 2012, he was killed, along with three other Americans, in a terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate.

Full memo below:

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— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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