Mainstream pundits have many excuses for Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi, Libya, performance. The most common being trotted out was that Benghazi was below her radar screen, and she can’t be expected to know everything going on in her shop. Let’s count the ways this is unconvincing, if not downright wrong.

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)

First, of course, every politician (ahem, a Northeastern governor) is held responsible for what goes on by underlings. The head of an organization must be held accountable for the people she hires. And, yes, leaders need to take ownership of the “culture” around them.

The Clinton culture is simple: Deny, insulate, deny. This is how Hillary and Bill Clinton have kept scandal from enveloping them again and again. (The Rose law firm documents were in a closet?!) They have loyalists, Cheryl Miller is among the closest, who clear up messes, as she apparently was seeking to do when she cautioned State Department personnel against talking to members of Congress. Clinton can keep trotting out the excuse that every scandal is someone else’s doing, but at some point the lady who knows so little about what is going on around her ceases to be seen as a competent leader.

Journalists who’ve never worked in a big company, served in the military or held an executive post may not have a good grasp on how information gets to the person at the top. It begins with the person at the top and/or her chief of staff setting up procedures and understandings about what is urgent, what gets elevated and what should never be a surprise for the boss. If this doesn’t exist, it is because the boss wants plausible deniability (that Clinton culture again) or because the boss is so caught up in minutiae and/or is out of the office so much (Clinton, to a tee) that the organization is chaotic and slow to react.

Moreover, in the case of Clinton, what was most certainly on her radar — or should have been — was the collapse of security in Libya and the infiltration of jihadis in the wake of the war we entered belatedly and with few eyes and ears on the ground. This was a big deal. Libya’s collapse shed doubt on the “victory” in the war and suggested al-Qaeda was not back on its heels, but on offense. It can’t be someone else’s job other than the secretary of state to keep track of major terrorist developments, especially one so severe that other powers and the Red Cross pulled their  people out.

The issue isn’t whether she saw a series of desperate memos from Ambassador Chris Stevens, but whether she ran a State Department in which the secretary would be told about dire requests from an ambassador in a terrorist-strewn county where other diplomatic personnel had been removed from danger. It goes once again to basic competence. It “matters,” as she couldn’t imagine it would, whether Clinton ran the State Department the way we’d want her to run the country. Four Americans’ deaths were preventable by the organization she headed.

It also “matters” whether she had real policy authority or was simply running part of the PR operation for the White House (“leading from behind!” “Al-Qaeda is decimated”). After she supposedly convinced the president to enter the war on the rebels’ side, did she have a game plan for helping to stabilize it after the war. If so, what was it?

All of this especially matters if Clinton is going to run for president on the basis of her experience at the State Department. Even sympathetic pundits can’t honestly suggest that she can boast about her accomplishments without being scrutinized for her errors and for the egregious policy choices to which she assented.