U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she takes responsibility for security at the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in an attack last month.
Secretary of State Clinton said she took responsibility for security in Benghazi. Above, in Lima, Peru, on Monday.
“I take responsibility,” Mrs. Clinton said in a recent interview in her office. “I’m the Secretary of State with 60,000-plus employees around the world. This is like a big family…It’s painful, absolutely painful.”
On Monday, in Lima, Peru, she also told television interviewers that she accepts the blame, adding that security at America’s diplomatic missions overseas is her job, not that of the White House.
Her comments come as Republicans, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, criticize the Obama administration for its handling of the security before the attack by extremists and its explanations afterward.
She also spoke in advance of the second presidential debate, which will occur Tuesday night. Both security arrangements in Benghazi and the administration’s differing explanations of whether the attack was the result of mob violence caused by an anti-Muslim video or a calculated terrorist strike were the subject of disagreement in last week’s debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee.
At the debate, Mr. Biden said the White House wasn’t aware of requests for additional security at diplomatic installations in Libya, an account that Mrs. Clinton’s remarks appear to confirm.
In her comments to CNN in Peru, Mrs. Clinton said President Barack Obama and Mr. Biden weren’t involved in security decisions at the consulate in Benghazi. “I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she said.
The State Department scaled back U.S. security staff in Libya in the months before the attack, despite requests for additional personnel, former U.S. security officials told Congress last week.
In the interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mrs. Clinton said she is working hard “to run an effective investigation to get to the bottom of what happened” in order to prevent such security lapses in the future.
Yet, she added, “We will do our very best to think through the best security possible, but we can’t keep people behind 20-foot walls and expect them to do their jobs…Americans need to realize our civilians serving our country are putting their lives on the line…in this inherently risky and dangerous world.”
After the Sept. 11 attack, Mrs. Clinton grieved with the family members of the four Americans killed in Libya, as well as their colleagues at the State Department. She has also in some instances prodded other countries to step up their defense of other U.S. posts abroad, particularly those subjected to demonstrations around that time.
Mrs. Clinton said Ambassador Stevens’s death has been especially hard on her because she handpicked him for the job.
“I sent Chris Stevens to Benghazi at the height of the Libyan conflict [during the Arab Spring],” she said. “He was eager to go and was very effective. I recommended him as ambassador.” Mr. Stevens’s father has recently said his son’s death shouldn’t become part of the political debate during the presidential campaign.
The political fallout from the attacks and deaths has extended beyond the presidential campaign to Capitol Hill as well.
At a contentious congressional hearing last week, House Republicans skewered the White House and the rest of the administration but went light on Mrs. Clinton and actually praised her for her attempts to clarify what happened in Benghazi.
In the days before the hearing, Mrs. Clinton made personal calls to the lawmakers to show that she was taking responsibility, an administration official said, which seems to have deflected criticism from her.
Despite the tragedy, Mrs. Clinton insisted that the Obama administration’s support of the Arab Spring had been appropriate as countries experienced a “burst of revolutionary energy” recently. “It would be a contortion of who we are not to support freedom,” she said. “Democracy is hard. It’s a never-completed journey.”
At the same time, Mrs. Clinton said she was encouraged when Libyans a few days after the attack in Benghazi protested in support of “our four colleagues” and against the violence directed at the U.S. consulate.
If there is going to be political damage for the Libyan tragedy, Mrs. Clinton may well be the most capable within the administration to withstand it.
With an approval rating at about 70%, she has already said she will leave as secretary of state at the end of the president’s first term.
Monica Langley –The Wall Street Journal