Politics & Policy

Why Doesn’t the Buck Stop with Hillary?

Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
The release of the Benghazi Report highlights the hypocrisy of Clinton apologists.

‘A lot of people tell pollsters they don’t trust me,” Hillary Clinton said Monday during a speech in Chicago. “Now, I don’t like hearing that and I have thought a lot about what is behind it.”

One would imagine so. Throughout both the 2008 and 2016 campaign seasons, Mrs. Clinton has faced criticism on multiple fronts, but the attacks concerning her honesty, transparency, and accountability have always been the most notable. In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama expressed concerns about Clinton’s honesty during their primary battle, while Republicans have made it a cornerstone of their campaign since the 2016 chatter began. From the moment she threw her hat into the ring in April last year, scandal after scandal has come up for review: Whitewater, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, her private e-mail server — the list, of scandals old and new, runs on and on.

In response to these criticisms, Hillary and her acolytes have offered one recurring defense: She wasn’t directly responsible.

A report released by the Democrats on the Select Committee on Benghazi — released as a preemptive dismissal of the official majority report, which at the time was forthcoming — provides only the newest example of this. Published yesterday, the 300-page document consists largely of harsh words for the Republicans on the committee. Notably, though, it contains a section titled “Secretary Clinton Never Personally Denied Security Requests,” which is concerned primarily with refuting claims that Hillary Clinton personally refused Ambassador Stevens’s requests for additional security. The presence of Clinton’s signature, the authors insist, was standard for any cable and did not necessarily indicate personal culpability.

If Mrs. Clinton had personally reviewed the requests for security and denied them, her actions would have been truly unconscionable. But that she did not does not excuse her. Clinton’s role in the Benghazi disaster runs much deeper than a signature on a piece of paper.

RELATED: The Benghazi Debacle Should Have Ended Hillary Clinton’s Career

Seeking to make her mark as secretary of state, it was Hillary Clinton who pushed the Libya intervention in the first place. And while she cannot be blamed for the military’s lack of response the night of the attack, it was Hillary Clinton who was responsible for making sure all of her staff and the outposts they manned had sufficient existing security. Mrs. Clinton’s claims that she was not aware of the situation in Libya because she personally didn’t handle the cable is belied by the fact that she was originally planning to make a trip to Benghazi and Tripoli in October 2012, one month after the attack took place. And in the aftermath of the attack, Hillary Clinton helped peddle information that she and the administration knew was false. Regardless of how the situation played out, Mrs. Clinton was the secretary of state, making her responsible for both her actions and the actions of her staff. No matter who was signing the papers, final authority — and responsibility — rests with the head of the department.

Clinton’s role in the Benghazi disaster runs much deeper than a signature on a piece of paper.

For years, Clinton apologists have employed this reasoning to defend the indefensible, repeatedly arguing that unless Mrs. Clinton was personally involved, she cannot be held accountable. But this argument lays bare a deep-seated hypocrisy. Indeed, when it comes to criticizing Republican politicians, American liberals have embraced the exact opposite logic for years. After 9/11, Democrats crucified George W. Bush for not doing enough to prevent the planes from crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as if he were an analyst monitoring terrorist chatter or working as an air-traffic controller. A few years later, Democrats blamed the less-than-ideal response after Hurricane Katrina on racial bias in the broader Bush administration. And, more recently, Democrats have called for Michigan governor Rick Snyder to resign in the wake of the Flint Water Crisis, as if he were personally responsible for putting test strips into the water supply.

But if the buck stops with President Bush and Governor Snyder for things that they certainly were not charged with personally overseeing, why doesn’t it stop with Mrs. Clinton? Why is the investigation into the Benghazi attack a “conspiratorial witch hunt” and not an investigation into what was, at best, an incompetent handling of a terrible situation? Why is there always someone, anyone, there to take the fall?

#related#The simple answer: The adoption of that consistent logic would not fit the narrative that Hillary Clinton is both experienced and capable. Famously, President Obama has suggested that there’s “[never] been someone so qualified to hold” the office of the presidency. But if Mrs. Clinton suddenly had to start taking responsibility for both her actions and the actions of those directly reporting to her, the fake shine that her apologists have contrived would inevitably start to dull. And, because Hillary is to be crowned in November, liberals can’t risk that happening.

If the Left wants to face the uphill battle of mounting a credible defense of Hillary Clinton, they should start by eliminating their rhetorical double standard. And if Mrs. Clinton truly wants the American people to trust her, she should start by finally taking responsibility for the things that have happened on her watch.

Andrew Badinelli — Andrew Badinelli is an intern at National Review and studies economics and government at Harvard University.

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