Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took full responsibilityfor the security situation during the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, saying that the State Department held full control over embassy security and not the White House.

“I take responsibility,” Clinton said during a visit to Peru. “I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They’re the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision.”

But she said an investigation now under way will ultimately determine what happened at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on September 11.

“I take this very personally,” Clinton said. “So we’re going to get to the bottom of it, and then we’re going to do everything we can to work to prevent it from happening again, and then we’re going to work to bring whoever did this to us to justice.”

This is certainly a far cry from the responsibility taken by our last Secretary of State for poor decisions and intelligence failures, as TBogg notes. But it’s not good enough for the warhawk triplets, McCain, Graham and Ayotte (sorry Joe Lieberman, you’ve been replaced), who want the President to hold himself personally responsible because there’s an election in three weeks.

Blake Hounshell has a good wrap-up of this entire Benghazi business, making a series of good points. Libya was a backwater in terms of news value, despite supreme challenges and dangers in the post-revolution environment, until this attack, when suddenly it became the chief foreign policy concern of the Republican Party. Some sustained, non-electoral focus would be nice. In addition, the media made the connection between the attack and the anti-Islam video even before the Administration did. In fact, they continue to do so:

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

This doesn’t get the Administration off the hook for implying a protest at the site that somehow morphed into an attack; within a matter of hours it was clear there was no protest beforehand. But this looks to be the result of standard fog-of-war stuff, pushed along by a media narrative. The President called this a terror attack the day after the incident in a speech in the Rose Garden. If you pick and choose between enough statements by enough Administration officials, you can allege a cover-up. But that may not really be the issue.

Finally, Hounshell adds this:

The United States can’t turn its diplomatic installations into armed camps. U.S. diplomats are going to need to take risks from time to time, and many of them are fully prepared to so. That said, it seems inevitable that this tragedy is going to have precisely the effect the State Department fears: more restrictions on diplomats’ movements, more fortress-like facilities, and less interaction with the locals. American diplomacy will be the worse for it — and that will ultimately make us less safe.

This is absolutely true, and Clinton echoed it, saying that ambassadors cannot be hidden behind walls. Hopefully she won’t pull back the diplomatic detail too strongly. “Freedom from fear” used to be a rallying cry.

I’m not sure working on a Libyan commando force so the Libyan government can combat its own extremists is such a good idea, incidentally.

Photo under Creative Commons License by France in the US

David Dayen

David Dayen