Over the weekend, New York Magazine posted a glossy and positive profile/interview with former Secretary of State and presumed Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. “She’s learned from her mistakes,” read the teaser for Joe Hagan’s piece, and now she’s “relaxed, calm, easy,” and enjoying being between gigs. Before she was in charge of “a smoothly running 70,000-person institution” at the State Department, and …
Hold on for a moment. “Smoothly running“? Isn’t this the same “institution” that managed to miss the possibility of a terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 in a region that had terrorist networks running amok, and then couldn’t organize a response to it over an eight-hour period — and then blamed the whole thing on a months-old YouTube video? In fact, we don’t even hear about Benghazi until page 4 of this People-esque profile, and then it gets just three paragraphs, mainly to note that it’s a Republican talking point:
Hillary might have left the State Department unsullied by controversy if not for the Benghazi episode, in which the ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other consulate staffers were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate. The NATO intervention in Libya was the most important foreign intervention of her tenure, and a seemingly successful one, but the lack of security in Benghazi and the confusion over how the incident occurred set off a heated Republican attack on Clinton’s handling of the disaster, and she was roasted on the cable-news spit for weeks. In January, she took responsibility for the deaths of the four Americans before Congress—while also questioning her inquisition, snapping at a Republican congressman, “What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”
Benghazi will be the go-to bludgeon for Republicans if and when Clinton tries using her experience at State to run for president. It is a reminder that Clinton, despite the cool, centrist façade she has developed in the past four years, is only a misstep away from being a target of partisan rage once again.
Regardless of the facts, Republicans are liable to use Benghazi as a wedge to pry back her stately exterior, goading her into an outburst, once again revealing the polarizing figure who saw vast right-wing conspiracies and tried ginning up government health care against the political tides of Newt Gingrich.
And … that’s it. Never mind that her gig at State is the only executive experience she can claim for her presidential run, and that the only real crisis she faced turned into a disaster followed by either incompetency or dishonesty, or both. Never mind that even apart from Benghazi, her tenure produced no foreign-policy victories, and would have been best remembered before Benghazi for the “reset button” with Russia that was a joke then and turned into farce this year.
Erik Wemple at the Washington Post can’t believe his eyes:
To his credit, Hagan covers the relevant factual terrain: Clinton did indeed take responsibility, and there were security issues.
The message of this treatment, though, is that Benghazi is merely and exclusively a political matter, not one of leadership and preparation and integrity. For instance, those security problems — can they be legitimately dismissed in just a sentence fragment? Even Obama administration officials have conceded that the security failures constituted a significant breakdown. How much of the failure appropriately belongs to the State Department’s leader?
There are many more substantive questions regarding Clinton and Benghazi, including why she couldn’t be bothered to represent the administration on the Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, instead leaving that task to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who bombed. And those conspiracy-theory-producing talking points: Clinton reportedly played little or no role in their evolution. Why?
Wemple also disagrees with Hagan’s take that the “What difference” moment was a courageous response to a political attack:
Hagan, too, spins Clinton’s famous outburst on Capitol Hill as evidence of Republican attempts to “goad” her, rather than as an example of a public official using righteous indignation to duck a question. At issue was the administration’s initial explanation that the Benghazi attack sprung from spontaneous protests associated with an anti-Muslim video. That account wasn’t valid. In a January hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson pushed Clinton on the matter …
For the record, it will always matter how the U.S. government accounts for the killing of our personnel overseas.
Indeed. One would think that an American media outlet would hold a high-ranking government official for the conduct of her department, especially one seeking a higher office down the road, and especially when so many questions remain. Instead, Hagan and New York can only muster three paragraphs in a seven-page interview on the worst terrorist attack on an American diplomatic station since the twin bombings of our embassies in Africa in 1998.
On the other hand, Hagan’s profile does include this:
Clinton has taken a press hiatus since she left the State Department in January—“I’ve been successful at avoiding you people for many months now!” she says, laughing. She is tentative and careful, tiptoeing into every question, keenly aware that the lines she speaks will be read between. In our interview, she emphasizes her “personal friendship” with Obama, with whom she had developed a kind of bond of pragmatism and respect—one based on shared goals, both political and strategic. “I feel comfortable raising issues with him,” she says. “I had a very positive set of interactions, even when I disagreed, which obviously occurred, because obviously I have my own opinions, my own views.”
Is that a tiptoe away from Obama’s foreign policy, especially after jumping in with both feet to support attacks on Syria only to see Obama retreat just days later? Hmmmm.