Clinton takes responsibility for Benghazi, but who is ultimately to blame?
In an interview Monday with CNN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton identified herself as the person to blame for the U.S.'s failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack that took the life Ambassador Chris Stevens and that of three other Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Clinton took care to shield the White House from the scandal, saying that diplomatic security was the exclusive role of the State Department. Coming on the eve of the second presidential debate, the admission follows a barrage of high-level administration surrogates shifting blame to the State Department, and Clinton no doubt felt tremendous pressure to concede in order to remove an important cudgel at Mitt Romney's disposal. But while Clinton may very well bear much responsibility for the tragedy, the ultimate culprit is the Obama administration policy of voluntary weak positioning abroad, which the President's State Department was executing in Benghazi. This is why the administration engaged in such a clear cover-up following the attack, along with the President's need to maintain the facade that he has brought the threat of Islamic terrorism under control.
The tide had turned for Clinton after the vice presidential debate last Thursday when Vice President Joe Biden put the Benghazi problem squarely in Hillary's lap. Biden claimed that he and the president "weren’t told they wanted more security there." On Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney doubled down. "These kinds of issues are handled in the State Department by security officials,” he said. Over the weekend the State Department blame game was in full swing. David Axelrod, Obama’s chief re-election campaign strategist, "explained" Biden's debate assertion to “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “The White House was talking about what the White House knew,” Axelrod said. “There are embassies all over the world and requests all over the world and these requests go over the the security professionals at the State Department. And there’s no doubt that some of these matters went into the security department of the State Department. But it didn’t come to the White House, and that’s what the vice president was responding to,” he added.
Obama advisor Robert Gibbs stayed with that theme in an interview Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union," where he spoke with CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley, who will be moderating the second presidential debate. "Security requests at our embassies and consulates and our buildings throughout the world obviously go to the State Department," said Gibbs. "Those are the people that should be making those decisions. Nobody wants to get to the bottom of exactly what happened more than this president and this administration," he added.
The most telling part of these last two interviews is that they took place two days after Clinton attempted to deflect blame away from her department last Friday. "Our people cannot live in bunkers and do their jobs,” Clinton said in remarks at an event in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Clinton also noted that she has appointed an accountability review board to determined what went wrong and what lessons can be learned regarding the attack. "We are working as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible, knowing that we cannot sacrifice accuracy to speed,” Clinton contended. “And of course our government is sparing no effort in tracking down the terrorists that perpetrated these attacks.” She further contended that a State Department that has a presence in 170 countries cannot be expected to guard against all acts of violence. “That is the reality of the world we live in,” Clinton said. “We will never prevent every act of violence or terrorism or achieve perfect security.”
Perhaps not. But during a House Oversight Committee hearing last Wednesday, five memos requesting additional security were released--and State Department officials confirmed the requests had been denied. Eric Nordstrom, who was in charge of security in Libya for the State Department, revealed his frustration in dealing with State Department bureaucracy with respect to obtaining more security. He said he told a regional that the toughest part of his job was "not the hardships, it’s not the gunfire, it’s not the threats. It’s dealing, and fighting, against the people, programs, and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me." He then offered a damnable assessment of that bureaucracy. "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
Hillary Clinton herself has been an integral part of the overall disinformation strategy regarding Benghazi that has now come back around to bite her. Both she and the President presented a united front when the coordinated effort to blame the attacks on the 13-minute movie trailer "Innocence of Muslims" took place. That effort reached its zenith when the administration spent $70,000 on an ad campaign in Pakistan--starring President Obama and Hillary Clinton -- condemning that video. "We absolutely reject its content and message," said Clinton in the ads. This was an Oscar-worthy production indeed, given that we have learned that there is little indication that there was even any protest at the consulate prior to the attack. Nonetheless, it was administration spokespeople like Jay Carney and Susan Rice who maintained this fiction under the direction of the White House long after the attack took place. But why? To protect Hillary Clinton? Or to protect the facade of a failed foreign policy and its true engineer?
Clinton proceeded to dig herself in even deeper. On September 20th, Clinton also contradicted the reality of the five aforementioned memos when she said that there was "absolutely no information or reason to believe there is any basis" that U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens believed he was on an Al Qaeda hit list. That statement also conflicted with Stevens' own diary, where the US ambassador to Libya revealed concerns about his own security, and the rising influence of Al Qaeda in the region.
Thus Hillary Clinton remains in the eye of a storm, one at least partly of her own making. And that storm may get a bit more turbulent if House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darryl Issa (R-CA) calls on her to testify before the committee investigating the security breakdown. Last Wednesday Issa, who has praised Clinton's cooperation regarding the incident so far, alluded to that possibility. “If it leads to areas in which she is a...witness, of course she will [be asked to testify]," Issa told "America's Newsroom." “In general we start as we did here with the whistle-blower and then we work up, down and sideways to get to the truth. You never take it off the table. It could go sideways, it could go to the White House, the FBI. There are a lot of people and places that had to fail for this tragedy to occur," he added.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was far more blunt. “At the highest levels of our government...they knew this was a terrorist attack as it was happening,” he said, prior to Issa's interview. “I think this speaks to the character of this administration. I think they know the president is very vulnerable with his mission accomplished, spiking the football regarding Osama bin Laden.”
For her part, Hillary Clinton should have expected no different than the predicament she finds herself in now. For nearly four years, President Obama has sought to blame the failures of his administration on anyone or anything other than himself, including President Bush, a Republican House, the European Union, or even Japanese tsunamis. Obama knows that Clinton will weather this storm, whereas he is not certain he will weather the next election. The calculation for him was easy. However, while Clinton will be tried weakly in the press in the coming days, the real indictment belongs with the Obama policies of weakness in word and deed abroad, which is above the Secretary's pay grade.
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