This weekend, President Barack Obama told Fox News Sunday what he thought was the worst mistake of his presidency: that his failure to adequately plan for the aftermath of the U.S.-supported overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 was "probably" his biggest error.
"Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya," Obama told Fox's Chris Wallace.
Obama said he still believes the United States was right to intervene in the conflict. U.S. air strikes, intelligence personnel and logistical support proved crucial to bringing the rebellion against Gadhafi to a close, though the country has remained chaotic since. After the coalition against Gadhafi failed to implement a credible successor to his rule, much of the country has been taken over by various militias and warlords.
The U.S. is still bombing Islamic State training camps in the country, a testament to the ongoing lawlessness in today's Libya, where the terror group controls an estimated 120-mile stretch of territory around the city of Sirte.
UN-appointed Prime Minister Faiez Serraj recently entered the capital of Tripoli, but according to Foreign Policy, has yet to assert his authority beyond restoring order to the city's streets. Serraj must "rebuild Libya's fractured institutions, tame power-hungry militias, win support from partisans of the government in the east, and — last but not least — crush the Islamic State's nascent "caliphate," which Foreign Policy writes is a hefty slate of challenges for any leader.
Obama recently told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg many of the U.S.' European allies in the conflict had lost interest in Libya after Gadhafi was toppled in 2011, contributing to the "mess" the country remains in.
"So we actually executed this plan as well as I could have expected," Obama told Goldberg. "We got a UN mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion — which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess ... I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya's proximity, being invested in the follow-up."
Obama's admission may pose a challenge for former secretary of state and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, widely viewed as the architect of the administration's intervention in Libya in 2011. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has called attention to the Libyan intervention as an example of Clinton's lack of "judgment," while a recent New York Times profile noted her expansive view of when to use U.S. military force "ran aground in a tribal country with no functioning government, rival factions and a staggering quantity of arms."