Four months after the consulate attack, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton finally made her appearance. Initial requests were delayed due to scheduling problems, avoiding an appearance prior to the November 6, general election. Clinton's subsequent scheduled appearance was delayed after Clinton had a fainting spill and was later discovered to have a blood clot in her brain.
Clinton spent a full day testifying to both Senate and House committees, accepting responsibility for the attack, but rejecting any involvement in any key controversies. Star struck Senators were no match for the politically savvy Clinton.
The Benghazi consulate attack became a politically charged issue for Republicans during the 2012 election campaign. The attack, which killed US Ambassador Chris Stephens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty. Republicans accused the Obama administration of a cover up, especially after UN ambassador Susan Rice made the Sunday talk show rounds depicting the attack as spontaneous as a result of an anti-Islam video.
In her opening statement to the House Foreign Affairs
committee she provided the background on embassy security throughout the globe, making direct reference to the Benghazi attack and the 1988 East Africa embassy bombing.
Any clear-eyed examination of this matter must begin with this sobering fact: Since 1988, there have been 19 Accountability Review Boards investigating attacks on American diplomats and their facilities. Since 1977, 65 American diplomatic personnel have been killed by terrorists. In addition to those who have been killed, we know what happened in Tehran with hostages being taken in 1979, our Embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2004, the Khost attack in Afghanistan in 2009, and too many others.
But I also want to stress the list of attacks that were foiled, crises averted, and lives saved is even longer. We should never forget that the security professionals get it right more than 99 percent of the time, against difficult odds, because the terrorists only need to get it right once. That’s why, like all my predecessors, I trust the Diplomatic Security professionals with my life.
Events leading up to the Benghazi consulate attack
A letter send to Hillary Clinton by the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform
on October 2, 2012 gave highlights of events leading up the events leading up to the Benghazi embassy attack.
The letter made reference to the assassination attempt of a senior British diplomat, the attack on the International Red Cross (IRC) offices and a previous attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Both the UK consulate and the IRC closed their posts in the Libyan city.
On June 6, 2012, under the cover of darkness, assailants placed an improvised explosive device (IED) on the north gate of the consulate, blowing a gaping hole into the security perimeter, which was described as big enough to permit 40 men to enter.
On or about June 10, 2012 a British convoy, with the British Ambassador to Libya was attacked, presenting a serious escalation of violence in Benghazi.
Darrel Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee
asked Clinton to provide a written response by October 8, 2012, answering the following questions:
Was the State Department aware of these incidents and if not, why not?
If aware, what measures were taken to match the level of security?
Provide a detail of requests made by the Embassy to the State Department, whether in general or in light of the threats identified, and to what extend did the State Department respond to these attacks?
Hillary Clinton was well prepared for the hearings and handled all questions raised with skill and political finesse. While Democrats used the hearing to praise Clinton for her long public service and her skill as Secretary of State, Republicans, for the most part used most of their allocated time in opening statements and then posed too many questions, without getting to the bottom of attack.
Republicans wasted their time on Susan Rice's prepared talking points during Sunday talk show appearances and the presidents address to the General Assembly to the United Nations, where the attack was depicted as the result of a spontaneous attack as a result of an anti-Islam video.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) used the occasion to pose to many questions, none of which Clinton replied to.
By far the largest flash point came during the questioning by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI),
when he claimed that the department could have easily determined what happened that night when staffers were evacuated.
"We were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that," Johnson said. "The American people could have known that (there was no protest) within days, and they didn't know that."
At that point, Clinton began to raise her voice.
"With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans," she said.
"I understand," Johnson said.
Clinton continued to speak, raising her voice and gesturing: "Was it because of a protest or is it because of guys out for a walk one night and they decide they go kill some Americans?
"What difference, at this point, does it make?"
Clinton, lowering her voice, then said it is the administration's job to "figure out what happened" and prevent it from happening again.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has presidential aspirations asserted that had he been president he would have relieved Clinton. He asserted that lives could have been saved if Clinton had been more involved in reviewing security requests. Clinton insisted that none of the security requests had reached her desk.
While four senior diplomats have been removed from their posts, they were merely moved to another job within the department.
Will this put the Benghazi consulate attack inquiry to rest?
There were no new revelations during a day of congressional inquiries. Clinton's testimony was well prepared and she easily deflected any attacks by Republican lawmakers. As Clinton hands over her responsibilities to Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who should be confirmed in early February, she can walk away from the State Department and forget the Benghazi affair.
Most Americans support Clinton, who according to recent polls, is the most popular politician in the United States. 59% of Americans approve of her job performance, while only 29% disapprove. Rumors have it that Clinton will attempt another run for president in 2016 and apparently her main contender is Vice President Joe Biden.
Republican lawmakers failed to set a scenario ahead of the testimony and many of the questioners did not have the knowledge to compete with Hillary Clinton. She was well prepared to deflect criticism. The most poignant questions were not asked. Benghazi, in all likelihood, will go into the chronicles of history. With Clinton's testimony out of the way, it is unlikely to raise its head again, except for the ongoing discussion by right wing talk show hosts.