During the vice presidential debates, GOP running mate Paul Ryan hammered the Obama Administration for its failure in protecting Ambassador Chris Stevens in an attack against a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The Obama Administration responded to the attacks initially by linking the attacks to the Islamophobic film Innocence of Muslims, though many officials and experts believe this was a planned and orchestrated attack – especially in light of the accurate hit and breach of a safe house, where Ambassador Stevens died.
Because the presidential election has dominated the news, this story did not get the extreme coverage it would have in a non-election year; that said, the attack did bring foreign policy into the dialogue between GOP candidate Mitt Romney and the incumbent, President Obama. Most voters tend to be disengaged with foreign policy – this is especially true now with the economic recovery being so slow, but it did give Romney another chance to highlight his view that the Obama Administration is weak when it comes to national security.
Surprisingly quiet through all of this is the woman in charge of diplomacy and the State Department – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While Clinton assembled a panel, independent from an FBI investigation to see what happened on that day (the anniversary of 9/11), she was absent from the congressional hearings on the matter, sending others instead. And while Clinton has publicly condemned the attacks and has been vocal about her abhorrence to the violence, she hasn’t commented really on how she as a leader has a part in the tragedy.
That’s changed – Clinton finally took responsibility, as she should’ve for the failure to provide security to the consulate in Benghazi, despite reports that Stevens and his staff not only were concerned about security but appealed for more protection; also, the American embassy in Benghazi also requested more security. The official line was that the security in the foreign missions were deemed “adequate” which now show to be untrue.
While this shows a failure in leadership on Clinton’s part (marring an otherwise very good record as secretary of state), she could still implement something positive in this tragedy: by taking leadership the onus is on her to figure out what exactly happened, and where in the process did the State Department fail, and how can it avoid making the same errors the next time. It’s admirable that Clinton’s taking the rap – it’s not often that a political figure will stand up and say “I screwed up, I’m sorry.” We’re still waiting for Clinton to admit that her vote for the Iraq war was a mistake – something she refused to do, even when she was running for president.
There also is a question of why weren’t the diplomats on the ground as well as the officials and experts listened to, when concerns of security were raised. Did their requests for amped up security go unheeded? If that’s the case, what rationale does the State Department have for acting that way? And what role do Clinton, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have in this, as well? Clinton’s admission comes at an interesting time – some cynics might claim she’s “taking one for the team” so to speak, so that Obama won’t have to shoulder the blame – after all, he’s running for re-election, while she’s retiring from public service – he’s got a lot more to lose, if voters are turned off from the president due to this failure.
Accountability in Washington, DC is a rare thing. When the country goes to war, policy wonks and administration officials give justifications and reasons, and when these prove to be incorrect or false, the same officials blame the misinformation on “bad intelligence.” Drone attacks kill innocent people across the globe, and suspects are often killed without a fair trial – when pressed, politicians say we’re in a war on terror. Hopefully, this tragedy will prompt the State Department to enact changes, so that when diplomats on the ground are appealing to their superiors about what’s really happening on the ground, their calls will be heard.