On the eve of the second of the presidential debates all hell broke loose. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from Peru no less and safely after the evening news broadcasts here in the United States, announced that she takes “responsibility” for the Benghazi security debacle. It was intentionally left vague for what part of the fiasco she was taking responsibility (e.g. refusing to send Marine guards, not alerting the president that Libya had become an al-Qaeda-infested, non-functioning state).
In one fell swoop she ensured that Libya will be front and center in the debate and potentially for the rest of the campaign.
Last night three key Senate foreign policy gurus, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made clear they were not buying a word of it. They released the following statement:
We have just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has claimed full responsibility for any failure to secure our people and our Consulate in Benghazi prior to the attack of September 11, 2012. This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.
However, we must remember that the events of September 11 were preceded by an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi, including a bomb that was thrown into our Consulate in April, another explosive device that was detonated outside of our Consulate in June, and an assassination attempt on the British Ambassador. If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed. But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred. The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief. The buck stops there.
Furthermore, there is the separate issue of the insistence by members of the Administration, including the President himself, that the attack in Benghazi was the result of a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video, long after it had become clear that the real cause was a terrorist attack. The President also bears responsibility for this portrayal of the attack, and we continue to believe that the American people deserve to know why the Administration acted as it did.
From their perspective Clinton was forced to walk the plank for a cowardly president who should have stepped forward to take the blame. The buck stops, in Obama’s administration, at Foggy Bottom and not at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Clinton supporters, in this version, must surely be enraged. She’s being forced to take a bullet while Obama (not to mention all the incompetent men around him who didn’t see this coming and messed up on the post-attack storyline) escapes blame. Why should she sacrifice her reputation and career? In the Clinton administration she was the victim; now she’s elected to fall on the grenade. Clinton’s been done wrong, once again.
However, there is another way to read the Clinton statement. Frankly, no one believes she is responsible. She gets the gold star for being the loyal underling. And — this is key — the president looks small and weak. The pressure rises on him to shoulder the blame and to explain what occurred. His remaining three weeks of the campaign are spent in a death spiral of scandal. Clinton comes out looking like a rose. The 2016 nomination is hers for the taking. She (and probably Bill) in this version is the ultimate political manipulator, undermining the president by her own act of faux bravery. (From Peru. After the evening broadcast.)
Whether you look at Hillary Clinton as a chump or a brilliant political player, the Libya debacle is now unmistakably the No. 1 story. It is now more than a foreign policy blunder. It is more than a tale of presidential deceit. It’s a pot boiler about revenge, blame and rivalry. No one is better at stirring that cauldron than the Clintons. And they have served up an irresistible brew for the media. All done from Peru.