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Will Benghazi Haunt Hillary in 2016?

The three State Department officials who resigned today in the wake of the release of a scathing report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya will probably be the only ones held accountable for that disaster. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conveniently laid up due to a concussion and won’t testify before a congressional committee on the issue, just as she avoided being called to account in the aftermath of the murders even though she issued a statement saying she took “full responsibility” for what happened.

As Seth wrote earlier today, Clinton, who is resigning soon anyway, has managed to maintain a reputation as a successful secretary of state despite a record that can only be characterized as unremarkable at best. A more harsh assessment would say that she has failed on virtually every major issue, whether it was relations with Russia, the Middle East peace process, or stopping Iran’s nuclear program. The Benghazi debacle is just the frosting on the cake on four years in which Clinton skated by on her reputation and a press corps determined to flatter her. She was unable to achieve any real successes, but also was clearly subordinate to the White House rather than being the person calling the shots on policy.

While it’s clear that in the short run Clinton will escape the public opprobrium she deserves for presiding over the Benghazi fiasco, it would be wrong to assume that this is the last we will hear of it. If, as many expect, she runs for president in 2016, Democratic opponents will clobber her with the account of how her department ignored pleas for more security in Benghazi and then spread misleading stories about a terrorist attack being nothing more than film criticism run amok.

Though she was the runner up in the 2008 Democratic presidential contest, that was a case more of Barack Obama winning than Clinton losing. Clinton entered that race as the overwhelming favorite in part because of her last name but also because she had no real personal liabilities as a candidate other than the idea among many in the party that it was time to move on from the Clinton era. Many Democrats who are unlikely to think critically about the Obama administration will ignore the facts about the dismal record of the State Department under her leadership. But in four years, when Obama is on his way out of the White House, it is entirely possible that by then some will be willing to hold Benghazi against his first secretary of state. In 2008, Clinton’s campaign attempted to exploit Obama’s lack of experience by talking about 3 a.m. crisis phone calls. But in 2016, it will be Clinton’s opponents who will be talking about how she flubbed just such a crisis and the result was lost American lives.

Despite the blithe confidence of her fans, the assumption that Hillary will have a cakewalk to the Democratic nomination in 2016 may turn out to be just as wrong as similar predictions in the years leading up to 2008. A bright new face may crowd her out just as one did during her first presidential try. But Clinton remains a formidable contender; the Benghazi blame that she is currently dodging may turn out to be one more reason why she will never be president.


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