Politico reveals the contents of the Benghazi chapter of Hillary Clinton’s book “Hard Choices.” The chapter itself reveals nothing new, which I strongly suspect will be true of the entire book. Clinton is a master at using many words to say very little.
To summarize the summary: 1.) Hillary Clinton grieves for the loss of the fine Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya; 2.) there was the fog of war that created confusion about the cause of the incident; and 3.) Republicans are meanies out to get her. What the chapter lacks in detail and context it makes up for in simplicity. Clinton will be a hard nut to crack in interviews. But for the interviewers who will get their turn, a few points should be kept in mind.
As a preliminary matter, they should be on the lookout for the favorite Clinton ploys. She doesn’t answer questions directly, she filibusters with fluffy material, she speaks about her own emotions and she accuses critics. Interviewers should call her on it. Please answer the question, Mrs. Clinton. Yes, but that doesn’t answer my question, Mrs. Clinton.
Now as to the substance, Clinton continually speaks of her emotions but rarely of her own responsibility. What did she do wrong? From the Politico account, it is unclear whether she explains how it was that she apparently lost track of the jihadist threat in Libya. It is not clear if she wasn’t paying attention, if the White House didn’t want to hear that its “success” in the Libyan civil war was coming apart or if the CIA didn’t do its job in keeping the administration fully informed. In any case, you would think the withdrawal of European and Red Cross personnel would have tipped Clinton off. Her real culpability is in failing to monitor the security situation in Libya and leaving her people unprotected.
Clinton is quoted as writing in response to her failure to read the cables from Ambassador Chris Stevens that “it doesn’t work that way” and even “it shouldn’t.” In other words, this is stuff for the little people down the food chain to deal with while she is globe-trotting. And there we have her executive incompetence laid bare. Where was the process for elevating urgent issues to her attention? She certainly is aware that every leader of a large organization must impart to her people the urgency of elevating significant problems and set in place processes so that big, important issues don’t escape her purview. It is fair to ask whether Clinton’s incessant travel and obsession with minutiae in every part of the globe distracted her from the really important issues (e.g. the spread of al-Qaeda in North Africa).
As for the fog of war, that’s generally a good excuse. But in this case, Clinton’s own department seemed to know more than Ben Rhodes and Susan Rice. To the extent interviewers want to re-plow this ground, it is fair to ask her why her own spokeswoman by Sept. 12 was already stating in a background briefing perfectly clearly that this was an organized attack and knew enough to ignore mention of the Internet video. (Clinton herself apparently knew immediately after the attack that this was a terrorist operation.) Clinton grazed the subject of the video narrative in passing at the casket ceremony to receive the dead Americans on Sept. 14, but generally she kept far from the video narrative hooey. (Compare the news conferences at the State Department and at the White House on Sept. 14; the latter was pushing the video narrative and the former certainly did not.) Perhaps the better question is why, when the president continued to make the connection to the video nearly two weeks later in a Univision interview and then in his Sept. 25 speech to the United Nations, Clinton didn’t speak up. Did she care that the president either didn’t understand the situation or was misleading the country?
And as for those meanie Republicans, one can only ask “What difference does it make?” If they are running down a rabbit hole on the talking points, we are still left with her own responsibility in putting and leaving her people in danger. If Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is careful or if he is overtly partisan, his conduct does not obviate unpleasant realities. Benghazi was an executive screw-up with deadly consequences. If Clinton didn’t know how dangerous it was for our people to remain in Libya, how desperate their plea for help was and how vulnerable they were, that failure is her responsibility and hers alone. (Consider whether Eric Shinseki’s failure to understand how awful the waiting time problem was at Veterans Affairs hospitals is an excuse or an indictment of his leadership.) She didn’t know? She didn’t keep an eye out for her people? For leaders it doesn’t work that way. It shouldn’t.