More than Benghazi skeletons should haunt Hillary Clinton's expected 2016 presidential bid. It now seems that the entire war in Libya -- where thousands died in a civil war in which no U.S. interest was at stake -- might well have been averted on her watch and, of course, that of President Obama's. How? In March 2011, immediately after NATO's punishing bombing campaign began, Muammar Qaddafi was "ready to step aside," says retired Rear Admiral Charles R. Kubic, U.S. Navy. "He was willing to go into exile and was willing to end the hostilities."
What happened? According to Kubic, the Obama administration chose to continue the war without permitting a peace parley to go forward.
Kubic made these extremely incendiary charges against the Obama administration while outlining his role as the leading, if informal, facilitator of peace feelers from the Libyan military to the U.S. military. He was speaking this week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where the Citizens' Commission on Benghazi was presenting its interim report. Kubic maintains that to understand Benghazi, the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed, "you have to understand what happened at the beginning of the Libyan revolt, and how that civil war that created the chaos in Libya could have been prevented."
Particularly in light of his senior military experience, Kubic's eyewitness story demands careful consideration. Like everything else about Benghazi, it also demands the official focus of a select committee investigation in Congress.
A short chronology sets the stage:
-- On March 19, 2011, Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, made a dramatic announcement from Paris on behalf of the "international community."
Eyes steady, voice freighted with dignity and moment, Clinton demanded that Qaddafi -- a post-9/11 ally of the U.S. against jihadist terror-armies such as al-Qaida -- heed a ceasefire under a newly adopted United Nations resolution, or else.
"Yesterday, President Obama said very clearly that if Qaddafi failed to comply with these terms, there would be consequences," Clinton said. "Since the president spoke, there has been some talk from Tripoli of a cease-fire, but the reality on the ground tells a very different story. Colonel Gaddafi continues to defy the world. His attacks on civilians go on."
That same day, NATO air and sea forces went to war to defeat the anti-al-Qaida Qaddafi and bring victory to Libya's al-Qaida-linked rebels. Uncle Sam, as I've often written since, joined the jihad.
Through Libyan intermediaries whom he knew in his post-naval career as an engineer and businessman, Kubic was hearing that Qaddafi wanted to discuss his own possible abdication with the U.S. "Let's keep the diplomats out of it," Kubic says he told them. "Let's keep the politicians out of it, let's just have a battlefield discussion under a flag of truce between opposing military commanders pursuant to the laws of war, and see if we can, in short period of time, come up with the terms for a cease-fire and a transition of government."
-- The following day, March 20, 2011, Kubic says he relayed to the U.S. AFRICOM headquarters Qaddafi's interest in truce talks as conveyed by a top Libyan commander, Gen. Abdulqader Yusef Dubri, head of Qaddafi's personal security team. Kubic says that his AFRICOM contact, Lt. Col. Brian Linvill, a former U.S. Army attache in Tripoli then serving as point man for communications with the Libyan military, passed this information up his chain of command to Gen. Carter Ham, then AFRICOM commander. AFRICOM quickly responded with interest in setting up direct military-to-military communications with the Libyans.
-- On March 21, 2011, Kubic continued, with the NATO war heating up, a senior aide to Qadaffi, Gen. Ahmed Mamud, directly submitted a set of terms for a 72-hour-truce to Linvill at AFRICOM. The Benghazi commission made the basic text of these terms available to press.
During a follow-up telephone interview I had with Kubic, he underscored the show of good faith on both sides that created hopefulness that these flag-of-truce negotiations would come to pass. On the night of March 21, Gen. Ham issued a public statement on Libya in which he noted the U.S. was not targeting Qaddafi.
-- By March 22, Qadaffi had verifiably begun pulling back troops from the rebel-held cities of Benghazi and Misrata. The cease-fire Hillary Clinton said the "international community" was seeking only days earlier seemed to be within reach, with the endgame of Qaddafi's abdication and exile potentially on the table.
Then, shockingly, Kubic got what amounted to a "stand down" order from AFRICOM -- an order that came down from "well above Gen. Ham," Kubic says he was told -- in fact, as Kubic said in our interview, he was told it came from outside the Pentagon.
The question becomes, who in the Obama administration scuttled these truce talks that might have resulted in Qaddafi handing over powers without the bloodshed and destruction that left Libya a failed state and led to Benghazi?
Had talks gone forward, there is no guarantee, of course, that they would have been successful. Qaddafi surely would have tried to extract conditions. One of them, Kubic believes, would have been to ensure that Libya continue its war on al-Qaida. Would this have been a sticking point? In throwing support to Islamic jihadists, including al-Qaida-linked "rebels" and Muslim Brotherhood forces, the U.S. was changing sides during that "Arab Spring." Was the war on Qaddafi part of a larger strategic realignment that nothing, not even the prospect of saving thousands of lives, could deter? Or was the chance of going to war for "humanitarian" reasons too dazzling to lose to the prospect of peace breaking out? Or was it something else?
Kubic, the military man, wonders why the civilian leadership couldn't at least explore a possibly peaceful resolution. "It is beyond me that we couldn't give it 72 hours -- particularly when we had a leader who had won a Nobel Peace Prize, and who was unable basically to 'give peace a chance' for 72 hours."
It's beyond all of us, I'm afraid -- unless a Select Committee on Benghazi finally comes together to do the people's business.
(Diana West's new book is "American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character" from St. Martin's Press. She blogs at dianawest.net, and she can be contacted via email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @diana_west_.)