Beyond Benghazi: Questions for Clinton

US Department of State

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers remarks at Foreign Policy Group’s Transformational Trends 2013 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., November 29, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • Secretary Clinton has still not faced questioning by Congress or the media more than 3 months after the tragedy. #Benghazi

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  • The starting point for questioning Clinton is realizing that Benghazi embodies both policy and management failures.

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  • The basic questions Clinton now must answer are straightforward: What did she know; when did she know it?

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The State Department’s Accountability Review Board last week issued a devastating report on the events leading up to the Sept. 11 assassination of four Americans at our Benghazi consulate. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has still not faced questioning by Congress or the media more than three months after the tragedy.

A series of excuses has conveniently allowed her to escape cross examination until after the ARB report was released. Clinton sails right along, now preparing the first steps for what is widely expected to be her 2016 presidential campaign.

Last week, however, Sen. Bob Corker asserted that no new secretary of state be confirmed until Clinton testifies. Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee starting in January, was joined by Sen. Lindsey Graham. Their idea provides a strong incentive to committee Chairman John Kerry, now tapped as Clinton’s successor, to schedule her testimony.

The starting point for questioning Clinton is realizing that the Benghazi debacle embodies both policy and management failures. The administration’s utterly wrong-headed view of the Middle East created an atmosphere that fostered tragically erroneous management decisions. Clinton’s blithe disregard of the actual political reality in Libya and four years of not attending to seemingly mundane management issues represented a palpable failure of leadership directly contributing to the Benghazi tragedy.

The ARB did not blame specific individuals, citing instead “systemic” failures. Clinton’s deputies, testifying in her absence on Dec. 20, conceded that State had not “connected the dots” as security deteriorated in Libya and the Middle East generally.

But in any organization, there is only one “first chair,” and Clinton must answer why she (and President Obama) was so convinced that the war on terror was over and al Qaeda defeated; that “leading from behind” in overthrowing Khadafy had succeeded, and that the Arab Spring was bringing stability and democracy to Libya and the region more broadly.

The Benghazi tragedy disproved all these assertions, and Clinton is accountable for the broad policy failures, not just the deadly specifics. Congressional hearings should go well beyond the ARB report. The basic questions Clinton now must answer are straightforward: What did she know; when did she know it — and what did she do about it, before, during and after the Sept. 11 attacks? Here are some elaborations:

* Before the attack, was Clinton aware of the security threats to our consulate and other international presences in Benghazi? Did she know about repeated Tripoli embassy requests for enhanced security? If not, why not?

Libya was a centerpiece of supposed success in Obama’s foreign policy, not some country of small significance and low threat levels. It is important to establish not only the actual paper trail in this case, but even more importantly why, on such a critical foreign-policy issue, it did not automatically come to Clinton’s seventh-floor office.

* On Sept. 11, what were Clinton and Obama doing? We need a minute-by-minute chronology. When was she first told of the attack, and what was said? When and how many times did she speak with the president? What help did she ask for? Was it denied, and by whom? When did she retire for the evening?

* And in the tragedy’s aftermath, Clinton must explain how the administration came up with its story that the Benghazi attack grew out of a demonstration against the now-famous Mohammed video trailer. Clinton herself referred to the video at the Sept. 14 ceremony when the remains of the four murdered Americans returned home. On this point, the ARB was crystal clear that “no protest took place” before the attacks.

Obama will hold office for four more years, and Clinton apparently aspires to succeed him. Their worldview and its policy consequences must not be allowed to escape scrutiny as they did in the just-concluded presidential campaign. Most of the media have certainly shown little interest in exposing administration failures. Clinton’s testimony may be the last chance to do so for a long time.

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John R.
Bolton
  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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