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Right Turn
Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 10/16/2012

NSC failure? Clinton’s failure?

Now on the eve of the second presidential debate, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comes forward with a rather meaningless acceptance of responsibility, telling CNN that she takes “responsibility” for what happened in Benghazi. Huh? She knew about the requests for more security and turned them down? She knew Libya had become a shooting gallery and kept it to herself? If she is really at fault she should first resign and then get herself to either a news conference or a congressional hearing to explain what she knew.

But of course this is another transparent move to deflect blame from the White House and race to catch up to events on the ground.

The Obama administration is scrambling to catch up to reality in Libya. Libya is not a “success” in leading from behind but rather on the verge of being disabled, if not overrun, by jihadists. The New York Times reports that only in the wake of the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans are the Pentagon and State Department “rushing to help the Libyan government create a commando force to combat Islamic extremists like the ones who killed the American ambassador in Libya last month and to help counter the country’s fractious militias, according to internal government documents.”

The administration, of course, should have known that the security situation was perilous months ago, when, for example, the International Red Cross pulled out. It is no mystery to European governments, to outside analysts and even to some intelligence figures (not to mention to members of Congress) that Libya has been a non-functioning state with a dire al-Qaeda problem. But only now does President Obama do something about it.

Is Hillary Clinton saying this failure was her fault? Well, we do have intelligence agencies and, more to the point, the National Security Council. Where were all these folks?

In fact, the president seems to always be the last to know about everything. In a remarkable State Department background briefing on Oct. 9 was this exchange:

QUESTION: Hi, yes. You described several incidents you had with groups of men, armed men. What in all of these events that you’ve described led officials to believe for the first several days that this was prompted by protests against the video?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That is a question that you would have to ask others. That was not our conclusion. I’m not saying that we had a conclusion, but we outlined what happened. The Ambassador walked guests out around 8:30 or so, there was no one on the street at approximately 9:40, then there was the noise and then we saw on the cameras the — a large number of armed men assaulting the compound

The State Department (except Susan Rice, it seems) had it right, but the president didn’t? Or the State Department permanent bureaucracy knew what was going on, but the secretary of state was clueless?

Even if we assume no one was trying to push this under the rug until the election and no one in the administration was nervous, the Libya attack would undermine the claim both to have put al-Qaeda on its heels and to have achieved a victory in Libya with only the slightest U.S. imprint. Doesn’t this all suggest that not only Clinton but also the NSC had utterly failed to keep the White House up to speed on what was going on?

Either national security adviser Tom Donilon has been asleep at the wheel for months (along with Clinton, I guess), failing to keep the president abreast of either the descent of Libya into chaos or the most up-to-date intelligence on the murder of four Americans, or Donilon did his job and the president failed in his. It’s one or the other.

If Clinton wants to throw herself under the bus, far be it from me to object. But it is silly to think she is solely or even principally responsible for the debacle. Sorry, but the buck stops at the White House.

By  |  09:30 AM ET, 10/16/2012

 
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