The State Department is out with its inaptly named Accountability Review Board. Inapt, because no one is identified as responsible for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. In the words of the report:
“The Board found that certain senior State Department officials within two bureaus demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection. However, the Board did not find reasonable cause to determine that any individual U.S. government employee breached his or her duty.”
Who might these certain officials be? I dunno. And if not “breaching their duty,” were they so incompetent as to disqualify them from higher office in the future? The report sheds no light. The report also doesn’t tell us why, if “no protest took place before the Special Mission and Annex attacks, which were unanticipated in their scale and intensity,” so many in the State Department, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, suggested for so long that the attacks stemmed from a protest over an anti-Muslim video.
In fact, we know nothing about what Clinton specifically did or did not do. We only know generically that “there was little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests.” You don’t say? And we really didn’t need this report to tell us: “Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the ‘Department’) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Glad we cleared this up. We could have learned that from the media, as well as the bland conclusion that “there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.”
I think, despite the fancy footwork by government bureaucrats, we can conclude that Clinton was fully (if not exclusively) responsible for failures this glaring and this widespread, which resulted in deaths of Americans. She sat atop this organization, and it is hard to deny (whatever her post-bump-on-the-head recollections might be) that she is not in every sense (politically, morally) responsible for failing to understand the Libyan situation and protect her people. The terrorists killed our people, make no mistake about that. But Clinton failed to do her job, and Americans died. Former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton agrees, telling me the report’s “emphasis on systemic failure and the Department’s failure to look at overall deterioration in the security situation regionally places responsibility at the very top. They were operating under an illusion about what was happening in Libya and the Middle East as a whole.” Maybe Clinton is wise to disclaim interest in a 2016 run for the presidency.
We have from the report this damning portrayal of the Libyan security environment, but no explanation as to how or why this escaped notice of senior officials:
Throughout Libya, the security vacuum left by Qaddafi’s departure, the continued presence of pro-Qaddafi supporters, the prevalence of and easy access to weapons, the inability of the interim government to reestablish a strong security apparatus, and the resulting weakness of those security forces that remained led to a volatile situation in which militias previously united in opposition to Qaddafi were now jockeying for position in the new Libya. Frequent clashes, including assassinations, took place between contesting militias. Fundamentalist influence with Salafi and al Qaeda connections was also growing, including notably in the eastern region. Public attitudes in Benghazi continued to be positive toward Americans, and it was generally seen as safer for Americans given U.S support of the TNC [Transitional National Council] during the war. However, 2012 saw an overall deterioration of the security environment in Benghazi, as highlighted by a series of security incidents involving the Special Mission, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and third-country nationals and diplomats
The lack of accountability and detailed explanation for how these lapses occurred and who specifically failed to conduct inquiries, coordinate policy and advise on the growing terrorist problem in Libya is what you’d expect from a government department investigating itself. This is why in the past we have had independent or congressional investigations of major foreign policy scandals.
Moreover, the Accountability Review Board was not charged with investigating what the White House did and didn’t know, what information was at the president’s disposal, what actions the president took before and during the attack, and why he and others perpetuated the disputed cover story for the attacks. So all of that remains a mystery except to those involved.
Congressional members charged with oversight have every right to be irate about this obvious attempt to deflect responsibility. The Accountability Review Board was used as an excuse to avoid answering questions before the election and to shield the president from questioning. The election is passed, but Congress and the media (oh, them) have an obligation to get to the bottom of this, especially with regard to failures of the National Security Council and the president.
It is unfathomable that such an exercise in misdirection and obfuscation would be acceptable in a Republican administration or that the media would show so little interest in determining what responsibility the president and his close advisers bear for this debacle. Let’s hope, if not the hopeless mainstream media (that’s a pipe dream), than alternative news outlets and congressional oversight committees get to the nub of this, including whatever lapses occurred in the intelligence community and in the White House.
UPDATE (12:45 p.m.): The Post reports that three State Department officials have resigned in the wake of the report. While mid-level civil servants were forced to walk the plank, individual responsibility has yet to be assigned to Clinton, her direct reports or, of course, anyone at the White House. Why should they escape the ignominy of being identified and forced out?