Actually, both Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice have a lot of questions to answer, but the Wall Street Journal is correct — the buck on the failures that led to Benghazi stop at Clinton’s desk, if not Barack Obama’s. Rice has to be held accountable for fronting a false narrative and explaining who told her to do so, but that’s less important than getting answers as to why and how the US could have left the Benghazi consulate and diplomatic personnel in Libya at such risk, especially after a string of attacks and overwhelming intelligence pointed to the dangers in the region to American interests. Clinton finally and publicly accepted responsibility more than a month after the attack, but as the WSJ’s editors point out, that has been nothing so far but lip service to accountability:
Last month in interviews from deepest Peru, the Secretary of State said “I take responsibility” for Benghazi. Except she hasn’t. She was conveniently out of the country for this week’s House Foreign Affairs hearing, and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry refuses to hold any hearings on Benghazi. His loyalty may get him a cabinet job, while Carl Levin’s Armed Services Committee also pretends nothing much happened in Libya.
The targets of the attacks and its first victims were diplomats. Chris Stevens died of smoke inhalation in the blaze, becoming the first American ambassador killed in the line of duty in over 30 years. A junior colleague also died. These men were Mrs. Clinton’s “responsibility.” Several hours after the assault on the consulate, members of the jihadist militia Ansar al-Shariah turned on the CIA compound about a mile away, killing two of Mr. Petraeus’s men.
In Congressional hearings last month, career State officials admitted that threat warnings from Benghazi were overlooked and requests for better security turned down. They said Foggy Bottom misjudged the ability of a weak Libyan state to protect them. It’s not clear how high up the chain these concerns went, but over to you, Mrs. Clinton.
For over a week after the attacks, the Administration blamed the YouTube video. Mrs. Clinton didn’t push this misleading narrative in public as enthusiastically as Ms. Rice. Still, she bought into it. The father of Tyrone Woods, a CIA contractor who was killed in Benghazi, told media outlets last month that Mrs. Clinton tried to comfort him by promising that the U.S.-based maker of the video would be “prosecuted and arrested”—though terrorists killed his son.
But it’s not just Hillary, either. The WSJ goes on to excoriate Obama for pursuing a flabby, oddly passive interventionist policy in Libya with no follow-up — and no apparent regard for the consequences of leaving a power vacuum in a region where terrorist networks already had a toehold. Not only did Obama initiate the decapitation strategy against the Qaddafi regime, Obama bailed out of it early, was late to recognize a government in Triploi, and then refused to use American resources to help secure the country against the militias. All of this is the prologue for what transpired in 2012, as Western interests came under repeated attack while State, under Hillary Clinton, refused to provide adequate security even as other Western nations fled Benghazi.
So the questions don’t just end at Hillary Clinton’s desk, either, nor does the “buck.” And her absence during these hearings certainly makes her declaration of leadership last month look like cheap talk rather than strength and confidence.
On the other hand, Dana Milbank argued yesterday, don’t be so quick to take the spotlight off of Susan Rice, either. While Milbank thinks that Rice has been made a scapegoat for Benghazi, her actions in this incident as well as a long history of undiplomatic behavior not only led Rice into her current predicament, they also show just how wrong she would be to replace Hillary at State — including a history of taking unnecessary shots at Hillary herself:
Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.
Among those she has insulted is the woman she would replace at State. Rice was one of the first former Clinton administration officials to defect to Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Rice condemned Clinton’s Iraq and Iran positions, asking for an “explanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.”
And Milbank allows that Rice’s contribution to the Benghazi narrative has been revealing of her lack of depth:
Compared with this, the flap over Libya is relatively minor — but revealing. It’s true that, in her much-criticized TV performance, she was reciting talking points given to her by the intelligence agencies. But that’s the trouble. Rice stuck with her points even though they had been contradicted by the president of the Libyan National Assembly, who, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” just before Rice, said there was “no doubt” that the attack on Americans in Benghazi “was preplanned.” Rice rebutted the Libyan official, arguing — falsely, it turned out — that there was no evidence of such planning.
True, Rice was following orders from the White House, which she does well. But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.
In any normal political environment after these kinds of failures, the careers of both Clinton and Rice would be limited to the speaking circuit and book tours of memoirs. The fact that Hillary still looks like a viable presidential candidate and Rice a potential top diplomat is rather stunning, in context.