Commentary Magazine


Benghazi Scapegoats Reinstated

In May, Senator Rand Paul criticized the Obama administration’s lack of discipline over the attack on the American mission in Benghazi. In particular, Paul claimed that “no one was fired.” Was that true? The Washington Post’s “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler was determined to evaluate the truth of Paul’s claim. Kessler found that four officials were removed from their State Department posts but were not actually “fired,” as we understand the term.

They were instead placed in a foggy category at Foggy Bottom which presumably enabled the administration to pretend it had taken action when in fact it hadn’t. But it didn’t seem fair to hope for their firings anyway, since it was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s responsibility to answer for the fate of the mission, and she was inexcusably negligent in her work. She deserved, of course, to be the one to lose her job. But that would have been politically untenable for her boss, President Obama, who was getting some help in his reelection campaign from Hillary’s husband.

So it was fairly clear they had found scapegoats to take the fall, and wanted to protect those scapegoats from having their careers ruined to protect Clinton’s presidential aspirations. When time came for Kessler to return a verdict on Rand Paul’s obviously true statement, he punted. “Verdict pending,” he decided:

None of these officials have the jobs they had when the attacks in Benghazi took place. All of them appear to be in some Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo that allows no closure in the matter. Presumably, their government careers are largely over.

Yet they have not been separated from government service, which some (such as Paul) might define as “fired.” As we have shown, achieving this is not as easy as it might appear if the sin is leadership failure as opposed to malfeasance. But under some definitions, they are as good as fired. In Maxwell’s case, it appears he would actually prefer to be “fired” since that would give him more options to challenge his situation.

Given this limbo, we can’t rule Paul’s statement as correct or not. We will monitor what happens to these officials in the future before making a final ruling.

Kessler will be happy to know both that he can make a ruling on the statement and that he was wrong about their government careers being “largely over.” Josh Rogin reports that Secretary of State John Kerry “has determined that the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave by Hillary Clinton after the terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi do not deserve any formal disciplinary action and has asked them to come back to work at the State Department starting Tuesday.”

That the four officials have been restored from their “Kafkaesque bureaucratic limbo”–though they will be “reassigned”–is based on the finding that they cannot be plausibly blamed for what happened, otherwise they would surely “deserve … formal disciplinary action.” And that is believable, in fact. It seemed at the time unjust not that these officials were spared heavyhanded punishment but that they were punished at all, thanks to the likelihood that they were merely pawns in a manic damage-control scheme.

That, really, was the point of Paul’s tirade anyway. When Clinton eventually was called to testify on Benghazi, Paul said he would have fired her for her incompetence. As for the officials back at work after being put through this bit of theater, no harm no foul, right? Not so fast, according to Raymond Maxwell, a scapegoat from the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs:

“No explanation, no briefing, just come back to work. So I will go in tomorrow,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell previously told The Daily Beast that the reasons for his administrative leave designation had never been explained to him. He contended that he had little role in Libya policy and no involvement whatsoever in the events leading up to the Benghazi attack.

“The overall goal is to restore my honor,” Maxwell had said.

While not a formal discplinary (sic) action, Maxwell regarded his treatment as punishment because he was not able to work and was publicly identified as being blamed for the tragedy that cost the lives of four Americans, including his friend Ambassador Chris Stevens.

His reputation had been unfairly sullied with no explanation. He was reactivated with no explanation. But he has spent the better part of a year having been blamed by the administration for the death of an American ambassador and three others, so what will the administration do to make sure his name is cleared? What will Clinton do to make it right?

Furthermore, if these officials aren’t (fully) to blame for what happened, who is? Surely the fact that disciplinary action was taken suggests the State Department believes someone deserves opprobrium for the tragedy–or was it not serious enough, in Kerry’s judgment, to warrant anything more than a shuffling of desks around the office?

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