Yesterday, Hillary Clinton was forced to testify in front of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. And predictably, this episode proved to be a pretty big waste of time. Even reading Fox News’ account of the proceedings, which would surely exaggerate any items of interest, proved to be decidedly boring. I provided the link above, but consider yourself warned.
For the uninitiated, Hillary’s testimony was about the attacks that took place against a US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. This event was indeed a tragedy, and it received extra coverage both because it killed a US official and occurred specifically on September 11, 2012. But the reason it is continuing to get so much attention is because it was seen as a political opportunity to attack Hillary. Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time of the Benghazi incident so Ambassador Stevens technically reported up to her; thus, critics have tried to place the blame squarely on her shoulders for his death.
The problem is that the way the Republicans have gone about attacking her on this issue is frustratingly stupid. The most common line of argument I’ve seen is that Clinton was somehow negligent in providing adequate security for the ambassador, and that’s why she should be blamed. But does anyone really think the Secretary of State is going to be involved in arranging the security detail for all her employees? No, of course not. Even if you’re trying to play partisan politics, how could you possibly think this is a winning move? It’s not.
This is depressing because the fact is that Hillary really does deserve a lot of the blame for the Benghazi attacks. But it’s not because she paid inadequate attention to random security details. It’s because she was one of the premiere forces behind the War in Libya that destroyed the sovereign government and led to widespread chaos. Regrettably, Ambassador Stevens was posted in that environment after the intervention and he became one of the casualties. That is the real issue that the committee should have focused on in this investigation–and to his credit, Rep. Peter Roskam did note this issue saying “Our Libya policy couldn’t have happened without you [Hillary], because you were its chief architect” and that “things in Libya today are a disaster.” He’s right about that. But unfortunately, that wasn’t the focus of yesterday’s hearing and it is hasn’t been the focus of the broader investigation.
And of course, the reason the investigation hasn’t focused on that broader question is again partisan politics. As we discussed last week, the War in Libya was and remains a disaster even as Hillary continues to defend the intervention. She and the Obama Administration are completely vulnerable to being attacked in all sorts of ways on this issue, from misleading the public about the threat to civilians to sidestepping any Congressional approval process. But the Republicans aren’t focusing on these issues because that would mean opposing an aggressive use of military force in the Middle East. That’s not something they’re about to do. After all, if they opposed the Libyan intervention as such, it would be hard for them to simultaneously support more intervention in Syria. So instead, we’re left with half-hearted attempts to lynch Hillary on security. It’s like they’re trying to go after a known murderer by convicting her of jaywalking. It totally misses the point.
For additional analysis on exactly why the Libya disaster is such a big deal, I would recommend this article at The New Republic from a couple months back. It elaborates on a lot of the details that led up to the Libyan intervention and why we should be focusing on a different issue here.
Although it was not the focus of this piece, I should note there have been credible reports that the Benghazi outpost was part of a CIA effort to smuggle weapons from Libya to Syria to arm the “moderate” rebels against the Syrian government. That could have also been a fruitful line of inquiry for the Benghazi investigation, but naturally it didn’t come up. If you’re interested in learning more about this part of the story, this article has a well-cited write-up that consolidates a lot of the relevant reports.