January 24, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would have fired Hillary Rodham Clinton for the debacle in Benghazi, Libya. “Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi . . . I would have relieved you of your post.” On the other hand, had the secretary of state spent her time reading staffing requests for consulates all over the world, someone else would have called for her firing. That person would have been right.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

There is something about Clinton that drives otherwise sane people nuts. I myself lack the stomach for what I have written about her over the years, since I now admire her and think she has been a swell — not brilliant — secretary of state. (No one will look back years from now and detect a Hillary Doctrine). Still it is hard to fathom the animosity towards her — this insistence that she failed to micromanage the consulate in Benghazi or that, in the confusion of early reports, the State Department failed to coordinate statements coming from Egypt, Libya and Washington. Maybe it has to do with her being a woman.

I write that with utmost reluctance since I have always thought that this was a way for women who liked Clinton to deflect criticism of Clinton. At the same time, some of the most vociferous criticisms of Clinton have come from women — as if she let them all down by not leaving, or at least slapping — Bill Clinton for his heroic philandering. That inaction, that passivity, could be interpreted by like-minded men as a get-out-of-jail card, a pardon in advance of the crime and that, for understandable reasons, angered many women. I think.

On Benghazi the issues were all different, but still you had this over the top criticism of Clinton. When she got sick and slipped, her critics accused her of malingering to avoid testifying before congress. This was a woman who would fly to other end of the earth to shake hands with some potentate — who has maybe not taken a sick day in her life — and yet she was accused of faking an illness. Later, when it turned out she had sustained a blood clot, the rush to apologize … just didn’t materialize. Being unfair to Hillary Clinton is perfectly acceptable in some circles.

Now to this Benghazi matter. It is both serious and tragic — four Americans were killed, after all, one of them Ambassador Christopher Stevens — but the post in Benghazi is the consulate, not the embassy. The embassy is in Tripoli. And so when the request came to beef up security at Benghazi, does anyone really think the matter should have gone to the secretary of state and that she should have personally reviewed it? After all, what does she know about such matters? This is what the security professionals do. This is why you have subordinates. Paul must know that and so his suggestion that the president ought to have fired Clinton for the attack in Benghazi made no sense. At any rate, everyone is entitled to one mistake. Rand Paul just made his.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.