I’ve recently read a fair bit of punditry claiming that if the White House threw Secretary of State Clinton “under the bus” by pinning the fiasco in Benghazi on her, Bill, brilliant strategist that he is, would push her to quit, leaving President Obama exposed and keeping her out of the coming electoral debacle.
After Hillary stepped up and “took responsibility” for the security failure that led to four American deaths, specifically stipulating that the White House could not be expected to have knowledge of security arrangements at the hundreds of U.S. outposts around the world, the general tone has changed slightly. Some, notably Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post, regard this as yet another example of Hillary being a “doormat” — this time for Obama, last time for her husband. Others wonder why she would bail out the president and VP at this late date.
Actually, by being the one person in the administration to take responsibility for Benghazi, Hillary won this round of power politics handily. Taking responsibility (even if it’s a little late) is what leaders do. We are thus left with a clear picture of a powerful woman with the younger, weaker president and crazy uncle V.P. Joe hiding behind her skirts. The administration looks considerably worse than it would have if it had just accepted blame for the incident. Hillary exists stage right, personal power intact.
But the story is far from over. The reason Hillary’s win is so enormous is that the failure to protect Ambassador Stephens was serious, but it is not the real reason that Benghazi-gate is fast becoming a Watergate-like scandal. A security failure leading to a death is a big deal, but it is not, in itself, a piece of political malfeasance. The scandal, as always, is in the cover-up: The lies, evasions, and deliberate attribution of blame for the incident to an obscure movie, made by an (Egyptian Coptic immigrant) American, came straight out of the White House. U.N. ambassador Susan Rice lied for her patrons in the West Wing, not for anyone at State, or CIA or anywhere else. The deliberate lies were intended to hide the very clear fact that, despite President Obama’s boasts, al-Qaeda and its relatives are alive and well, committing terrorism and killing official Americans at will. And intentional deception of the American people for the sake of winning an election is a big scandal indeed.
Hillary Clinton’s “I take responsibility” was in no way a mea culpa for the real scandal, the cover-up and weeks of ensuing lies. That story does not go away. It sticks. The truth will continue to dribble out, bit by bit, wearing away any sense that the Obama White House might have handled both the War on Terror and the Arab Spring effectively, and making it clear that President Obama and his political operatives went to great lengths to deceive Americans for. Whichever clever strategist decided that Hillary Clinton should take the rap was too clever by half.
— Lisa Schiffren is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.