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Clinton Goes on Offensive Over Iraq, Libya Clinton Goes on Offensive Over Iraq, Libya

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Middle East

Clinton Goes on Offensive Over Iraq, Libya

Foreign policy subsumes domestic political messaging on Sunday's talk shows.


Hillary Clinton speaks at a hearing on March 10.(Chet Susslin)

It is impossible for an elected official to go on television lately without trashing his or her opposing party. But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is now “out of politics,” and her presence on a series of Sunday talk shows offered a brief respite from the political squabbles about who is to blame for the poor economy and who mows Mitt Romney’s lawn.

Friday’s announcement that United States troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year put foreign-policy questions about U.S. relations with the Middle East at the forefront of public-affairs dialogue. The death of Muammar el-Qaddafi turned the public eye to next steps in Libya.


Clinton has two messages for anyone questioning how the United States’ troop withdrawal from Iraq will change things: First, this isn’t a surprise and shouldn’t be taken as one. And second, the United States isn’t abandoning Iraq.

Critics, notably Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have said the withdrawal will make it easier for Iranians to cultivate their own interests in Iraq, which could be damaging to U.S. interests. Clinton made sure to address that point, stating on four different networks that Iran should not “miscalculate” the United States’ continued involvement in Iraq, albeit on different terms.

“We are continuing a training mission in Iraq. That has been agreed to,” Clinton said on CNN’s State of the Union. “This was a decision put into motion back in the Bush administration," a position she also took in an earlier interview with Fox News Sunday.


“President Obama has said from the beginning that combat troops would leave by the end of this year. That should not surprise anyone. It’s important to remember that this deadline was set by the Bush administration,” she said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

McCain appeared on ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour with harsh words for the administration about the troop withdrawal from Iraq. “It’s a serious mistake and there was never really serious negotiations” with Iraq to allow troops to remain, he said. “It is viewed in the region as a victory for the Iranians, and I don’t think there’s any doubt there is.”

On Iran, Clinton didn’t mince words. “It’s also important to underscore that Iran would be badly miscalculating if they did not look at the entire region and all of our presence in many countries in the region, both in bases, in training, with NATO allies like Turkey” she said. “I’m used to the president of Iran saying all kinds of things, but I think it’s important to set the record straight.”

Twice on CNN, she mentioned the strong NATO and United States presence in Turkey.


On ABC, Clinton issued a similar warning to Iran. “We’re going to be present in Iraq, supporting the Iraqis and continually discussing with them what their needs are.  And no one should miscalculate our commitment to Iraq, most particularly Iran,” she said. 

There’s no question that the troop withdrawal will alter the relationship between Iraq and the United States. Clinton is trying to tamp down unnecessary furor resulting from the announcement. “We will not have combat troops and bases,” she said on CNN. “The support and training mission [in Iraq] is in addition to the usual marine contingent, the defense attaché and the other normal relations between our diplomats and the Department of Defense.”

On Libya, Clinton said the United States, along with the rest of the world, will be watching to see how the country moves on from four decades under Qaddafi. She stressed that a new Libyan democracy, however it emerges, should be sure to include “people who supported the former regime, unless they do have blood on their hands.”

As to the circumstances of Qaddafi’s death, Clinton said she supports the United Nations' call for an independent investigation. “I think that the new Libya needs to start with accountability, the rule of law, a sense of unity and reconciliation,” she said.

Clinton also is working with Pakistan, a country where the relationship with the United States is sometimes testy, to remove terrorist safe havens. In the past, Clinton has said that anyone in Pakistan who allows terrorist safe havens to operate will pay a steep price.

“We did have a very intense, frank, candid, open discussion between the high-level delegation I led,” she said on Sunday. The United States needs to work on reducing terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan, while Pakistan needs to reduce such havens within its own borders, she added.

“We have to stand by a reconciliation and peace process led by the Afghans. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Americans already are facing consequences from the attacks that cross borders and kill people. The consequences could be more dire if we do not increase our cooperation.”

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