Obama Adviser Appears to Blame Gaddafi for Mayhem in Libya

July 28, 2014 - 5:15 AM

Mideast Libya

In this Saturday, July 26, 2014 frame grab from video obtained from a freelance journalist, shows an airplane on the tarmac of the airport belching black smoke into the air during fighting between the Islamist Misarata brigade and a powerful rival militia, in Tripoli, Libya.  (AP Photo/AP video)

(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. evacuated its embassy in Tripoli, Libya on Saturday -- removing even the Marines who were guarding it -- because of "violence and instability in the area," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told CNN's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley on Sunday.

How can that be viewed as anything other than a foreign policy failure, Crowley asked, especially when President Obama helped topple former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi -- then left the Libyan people to fend for themselves.

"Well, what Gaddafi left was an empty shell of a government," Rhodes said. "He never really built a state and the institutions of a state. So, you have these militias in place."

Rhodes said U.S. Ambassador Deborah Jones is now stationed in Malta, where she'll "continue to work with the Libyans," trying to broker an agreement among the different factions that are fighting for control of the country, something she apparently was unable to do during the many months she was in Tripoli.

"And in fact President Obama will welcome a Libyan delegation to the summit of African leaders in the coming week," Rhodes added. "We are going to keep working on it, Candy, because we do believe that there is a huge opportunity in Libya if we can bring the different factions together."

"So, not a failure of U.S. policy?" Crowley asked.

"Well, again, it points out the difficulties of a post-conflict situation, when you have so many people awash with weapons," Rhodes responded. "We still do need to get better, though, I would acknowledge, in working with the Europeans and trying to integrate these militias into what can be a truly national Libyan security force."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told NBC's "Meet the Press" the situation in Libya is "very difficult," and he said he doubts the United States can influence what happens there:

"Obviously, these situations are very difficult in the world. And while we should be as humanitarian as possible, I am dubious of our ability to really influence the outcome in this part of the world. We've not been able to do that in almost any place at all. Maybe Tunisia."

Schumer said the U.S. had "no choice but to evacuate" the embassy in Tripoli, after it was caught in the cross-fire of rival militias fighting for control of the country's airport.

Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. embassy personnel "will return the moment the security situation permits us to do so, but given the situation, as with Turkey, I think they moved some 700 people or so out, we want to take every precaution to protect our folks."

President Obama, just back from a fund-raising trip to the West Coast, was golfing on Saturday, prompting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a conservative Republican, to tweet: "comforting that as US embassy in Libya evacuated President Obama golfed with ESPN hosts. Wouldn't want President bothered by reality."

On Monday, the Libyan government asked the international community for help after a huge oil depot caught fire amid clashes near the airport.

The interim government said in a statement posted on its website that the huge blaze could trigger a "humanitarian and environmental disaster," the Associated Press reported.

The battle for control of the airport began two weeks ago when Islamist-led militias — mostly from the western city of Misrata — launched a surprise assault on the airport, which has been under control of a rival militia from the western mountain town of Zintan.