Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying today on the attack on the American mission in Benghazi in September and the administration’s response. In her opening statement, Clinton said she takes responsibility, though her statement instead makes excuses for what happened and her State Department’s myriad mistakes.
Clinton’s statement focuses on the post-attack response as well–a convenient way to attempt to distract from the pre-attack failures. For example, she says after the attack happened she saw firsthand what the accountability review board “called ‘timely’ and ‘exceptional’ coordination.” But the exceptional coordination was in removing the U.S. mission’s survivors 12 hours after the attack, according to the review board. The problem with the performance of Clinton’s State Department was that coordination prior to the attack was far from “exceptional.” Here is what the review board had to say about that:
Communication, cooperation, and coordination among Washington, Tripoli, and Benghazi functioned collegially at the working-level but were constrained by a lack of transparency, responsiveness, and leadership at the senior levels. Among various Department bureaus and personnel in the field, there appeared to be very real confusion over who, ultimately, was responsible and empowered to make decisions based on both policy and security considerations.
Clinton also sought to downplay the perceived rarity of such a tragedy by repeating a list of attacks on American diplomatic and security missions over the last several decades, attempting to establish a pattern that makes her failures of management and judgment seem almost incidental. In her statement, she said:
Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Benghazi joins a long list of tragedies, for our Department and for other agencies: hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, our embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost attack in 2009, and too many others.
The appropriate comparison here is, ironically, with the attacks on our embassies in East Africa, which occurred during her husband’s administration and were also partially the result of negligence. What unfolded in Benghazi was similar because Clinton’s State Department also ignored warnings and didn’t take seriously enough the danger to the Benghazi mission or the credible threats to foreign diplomatic personnel there. As the review board noted:
It is worth noting that the events above took place against a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya. While the June 6 IED at the SMC and the May ICRC attack were claimed by the same group, none of the remaining attacks were viewed in Tripoli and Benghazi as linked or having common perpetrators, which were not viewed as linked or having common perpetrators. This also tempered reactions in Washington. Furthermore, the Board believes that the longer a post is exposed to continuing high levels of violence the more it comes to consider security incidents which might otherwise provoke a reaction as normal, thus raising the threshold for an incident to cause a reassessment of risk and mission continuation. This was true for both people on the ground serving in Libya and in Washington.
It is unlikely Clinton will be able to distract those questioning her today with her talk of implementing “29 recommendations” and “64 specific action items.” Nor should they be fooled by Clinton’s attempt to “take responsibility” while maintaining nothing could be done and lauding her State Department’s performance.