Is Clinton to blame for Benghazi? To a great extent, yes indeed. Bill Clinton, that is, not Hillary.
I have devoted much time and space in this column defending presidents of the United States: as Sarah Palin might say – “all of ‘em, any of ‘em.” Democrats, Republicans, Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, and Whigs too. And Bill Clinton is among the many presidents I’ve defended.
“For a Democrat, he’s not that bad,” I often told my Republican friends, while Clinton was in office. (Nowadays, I don’t think Republicans are all that great either, but that’s another story.)
I give him a great deal of credit for bringing the Democratic Party closer to the center, moving it decisively rightward from the George McGovern/Ted Kennedy/Tip O’Neill days. (By the way, President Obama is also to the right of those three liberals, but that, too, is another story.)
I also give Clinton – and Al Gore – credit for seriously addressing America’s spending problem. And for guiding the juggernaut economy that, as always, has little to do with the White House occupant in substance, and everything to do with that person in symbolism.
In other words, Clinton was in the right place at the right time, as the age of the Internet skyrocketed to steady prosperity, but even an aircraft running on auto pilot needs to be properly stewarded.
Where Clinton’s Presidency fell far short of the mark, however, was on the foreign policy side – more specifically, in our having taken our eye off the ball of terrorism.
Donald Trump, who these days is known for off-the-wall screwball remarks, also makes sense the other half of the time. In 2000 he warned about the emergent enemy – not a new Soviet Union, but a terrorist infiltrator with an explosive briefcase.
But the Clinton Administration in its eight years in power did little to contain the growing threat of fundamentalist jihadists that were exporting their violence increasingly throughout the globe. It was as if their storybook ended with: “and so the Berlin Wall came down, and they all lived happily ever after.” No more wars, no more threats – it seemed Clinton et al. surmised.
Hillary Clinton’s opponents like to call her Senate tirade a “meltdown,” during which she said about Benghazi: “The fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? 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.”
Though the 2016 election is more than two years away – an eternity in politics – it seems that Benghazi may be the sticking point for Clinton, particularly as she remains the all-but-coronated Democratic Presidential nominee, and the odds-on favorite to win the general election.
Surely no one except the fringe Internet conspiracy loons thinks that this was “an inside job,” that the United States somehow “knew” about the attacks in advance.
The real debate is about whether the emphasis on investigating Benghazi is overwhelmingly if not exclusively based on politics – to discredit both President Barack Obama, then-Secretary of State Clinton, and as many other Democrats as possible, for that matter – or if it is imperative to find out what went wrong that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
The most plausible worst-case scenario is that the United States did in fact make a careless and colossal blunder that resulted in the deaths of those Americans. And if that is the case, then certainly both Clinton and Obama are liable, at least vicariously if not directly, and should be held accountable.
But it is more the type of deadly mistake that can be remedied fairly easily to prevent it from happening in the future – such as, say, how to deal with a hurricane in the post-Katrina era.
That terrorist cells continue to exist – to what extent we don’t know – and were forceful enough not only to create a “9-11” in 2012, but an even more devastating one 11 years earlier, is the fault of the United States in not having addressed that problem sooner and much more effectively. And much of that indifference – though certainly not all of it – happened on Bill Clinton’s eight-year watch.
Maybe there are two Clintons to blame for Benghazi, and maybe even a Bush or two. But the statement “it was Clinton’s fault” rings truest when the Clinton in question is not Hillary, but Bill.