President Obama held a press conference this afternoon, and both the questions and the answers about the Benghazi consulate attack and the scandal surrounding David Petraeus were revelatory in their omission of one aspect of the story. Obama offered a tetchy response to a question about UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who was tasked with selling the administration’s line that it was an anti-Islam filmmaker who was responsible for the events that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others that night. The president’s defense of Rice was another salvo in the ongoing fight over whether she should even be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. (Obama’s defiant air seemed to suggest he does plan to submit that nomination.)
And the Petraeus affair is sordid and steamy–a combination we simply cannot expect the press corps to ignore. But the events of the last week have made clear that Clinton is off the hook for what may have been the most consequential mistake of anyone in this episode. Yes, the CIA seems to have made mistakes in Benghazi, and yes, Susan Rice misled the American people (on the administration’s orders, we can presume). But the State Department was responsible for handling the diplomatic mission’s request for more security–a request they denied. Yet no one is suggesting Clinton should tender her own resignation.
It’s true that Clinton plans to leave her post soon, but that’s no reason for her to avoid continuing scrutiny over this debacle. What’s more, if Petraeus’s actions deserve his resignation, and Rice’s actions warrant insistence from John McCain and Lindsey Graham that they’ll block her nomination (thus costing Rice the job she expects and covets), it’s hard to imagine how Clinton, who owns the lion’s share of responsibility for this fiasco, can keep her job.
The State Department has responded to the revelation that they denied the security request by saying that no one knows for sure whether the requested security would have saved Stevens and the three others killed that night. But that doesn’t change the fact that, as Jake Tapper reported at the time, the whole episode smacked of unpreparedness and incompetence:
But the question – both for the State Department, which is conducting an internal investigation, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is holding hearings next week – is whether officials in Washington, D.C., specifically at the State Department, were as aware as they should have been about the deteriorating security situation in Libya, and whether officials were doing everything they could to protect Americans in that country.
Just so. Whatever the mistakes of the CIA personnel at the annex and their superiors, the State Department left its ambassador woefully underprotected in a war-torn country and ignored pleas for protection and warnings of danger. Because of the nature of the CIA mission in Benghazi, there is much we still don’t know about the annex. And Rice was almost surely just repeating talking points she was given. That doesn’t exonerate Rice or Petraeus, but it certainly doesn’t exonerate Clinton, who has slipped quietly–and irresponsibly–from the conversation over the ramifications of a tragedy that began with her failure.