Benghazi one of many dangerous posts
Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 7:00 pm
By DOUGLAS COHN
and ELEANOR CLIFT
WASHINGTON – After being out of the public eye for several weeks due to health reasons, a fully recovered Hillary Clinton turned in a bravura performance before two congressional committees on Wednesday.
She deftly handled questions over five hours, taking responsibility for the tragic events last year in Benghazi while deflecting any personal blame for the lapse in security that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Some senators typically overplayed their hand, peppering Clinton with questions about why it took the administration more than a week to concede the attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi was a terrorist assault and not a spontaneous protest in response to an anti-Islam film. The Secretary of State finally had it with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., erupting emotionally to ask why that should matter. “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
It was a good question and nobody seemed to have much of an answer other than to chalk it up to partisanship. Republicans thought the Benghazi attack, which occurred in September when the presidential campaign was in full throttle, would undermine President Obama’s claim that he had Al-Qaeda on the run and raise questions about the administration’s credibility.
It was far from another Watergate, but Republicans thought it had the potential to damage Obama’s leadership.
The public didn’t respond the way the GOP hoped, and then Clinton was on the sidelines, suffering first from stomach flu, then a fainting spell brought on by dehydration, and finally a blood clot in that hospitalized her. In the meantime Republicans had built up Benghazi in their view as some terrible breach of security that someone in a high position should be called to account.
Clinton in her opening statement before the Foreign Relations Committee cited a long string of incidents where American personnel abroad have been assaulted, taken hostage or killed.
The popular view of an ambassador as a wealthy donor who is rewarded for his or her financial support with a plum post abroad is certainly true in some instances. But Clinton made the point that serving abroad in unstable parts of the world carries risk, and that the lesson of the Benghazi tragedy must not be to disengage from the world, or to sequester U.S. diplomats in fortified compounds.
The usually cool Secretary of State’s voice quivered when she recalled comforting the families of those killed in Benghazi. She acknowledged under questioning from the House Foreign Affairs committee that she was aware that the security threat in Benghazi was escalating. A bomb had been found at the compound in June, and there had been an ambush that same month on the British ambassador.
Clinton’s insistence that she had never seen any of the specific requests for additional security that Stevens and others had asked for in cables prompted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kent., to say that if he were president at the time, he would have fired her.
That prompted at least one audible gasp from Clinton’s State Department entourage as the Secretary brushed aside the comment as unworthy of a response. Published in The Messenger 1.29.13