When it first became clear that the CIA’s Benghazi talking points had been altered, many of us viewed the White House as the prime suspect. After all, it served President Obama’s political purposes to claim, at the height of a political campaign in which he was taking credit for the fall of al Qaeda, that the death of a U.S. ambassador was down to spontaneous outrage over a video, rather than pre-planned terrorism.
It turns out, however, that the State Department was the prime culprit. It was State that pushed back hard against the original talking points. The White House, probably for the political reason cited above, took its side.
Why did State want the talking points changed? Because it had ignored warnings about rising terrorist activity in Libya and had reduced security rather than beefing it up, as our embassy requested.
Under these circumstances, it would not do to attribute the Benghazi killings to the terrorism about which top State Department officials had been warned. Much better to lump what happened in Libya together with the protests that occurred in Egypt, and thereby characterize it as a demonstration that went too far, rather than premeditated terrorism.
Was Hillary Clinton directly involved in this cover-up? It’s difficult to see how she could not have been.
As I understand it, when State pushed back against the CIA’s talking points, a White House meeting was scheduled to thrash out the issue. One can, perhaps, imagine Clinton failing to keep apprised of something as mundane as a mounting threat to the safety of her personnel in Libya. But surely she was in the loop when it came to a bureaucratic struggle about how our U.N. ambassador was going to spin the Benghazi debacle. And surely, her representatives would not attend the meeting in which that bureaucratic struggle was to be resolved without being able to state the desires of the Secretary of State.
Hillary Clinton, then, is culpable at the front end of the Benghazi disaster — when she and/or her agents ignored requests for enhanced security — and at the back end — when she and her agents engineered an attempted cover-up. Her culpability during the attacks is doubtful in my opinion, but I would still like to know what she was doing during those tragic hours.
In a serious society, Benghazi, standing alone, would spell the end of Hillary Clinton’s public career. But there is much more.
The signature initiative of her time as Secretary of State — the “reset” with Russia — was a fiasco or a farce, depending on how seriously one took it to begin with. I would have had trouble taking seriously an initiative launched with the aid of a fake reset button, even if Clinton had used the correct Russian word for “reset.”
We should also remember that Clinton managed to lose the presidential nomination in 2008 despite having a huge lead and major advantages over her relatively unknown rival. She lost in part because she and her staff couldn’t figure out the importance of winning caucuses in a host of “off-the-beaten-path” states.
Finally, there should be no statute of limitations on Hillarycare. On big matters, failure is the norm for Hillary Clinton.
Despite all of this, Clinton finds herself the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, if she seeks it. And I gather that she is favored to win the general election, as well.
Will Benghazi derail her? I wouldn’t bet on it. First, it’s far from clear that, in 2016, the electorate will still care much about what happened in Benghazi (did it ever?) and about subsequent lying about the nature of the attacks.
Second, and relatedly, before Benghazi can hurt Clinton, someone needs the courage to raise the issue. Would Clinton’s serious Democratic rivals (if any) have that courage? Or would they fear a backlash from an essentially pacifist base that sees this as a Republican issue, and therefore irrelevant, and that may be hell bent on nominating a female?
Would a Republican nominee have the requisite courage? Or would he fear a backlash from female voters offended about suggestions that the first woman candidate for president is, simultaneously, too weak and too conniving for the job?
Perhaps the specter of Benghazi, or simple embarrassment over it, will dissuade Clinton from even entering the race. But I wouldn’t bet on that either.