On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally fielded Congress’s questions about the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Despite her theatricality during the Senate hearing, Clinton’s testimony left much to be desired from lawmakers who are still seeking answers about the attack.
“For me, this is not just a matter of policy. It’s personal,” Clinton said at one point, choking up. “I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children.”
That moment was seized by mainstream media as the defining point of the Secretary of State’s testimony. Largely ignored, however, was the fact that Clinton didn’t satisfactorily answer any of the questions related to the State Department’s bizarre initial response to the attacks.
The Secretary of State was criticized by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) for not recognizing the possibility for violent acts against the consulate in the destabilized country.
In a terse exchange with Clinton, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made clear that he felt the top diplomat’s response to the attack should have been a “career ending” failure.
“Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable,” he said.
“I think we can understand you’re not reading every cable,” Paul said. The Senator said he didn’t suspect Clinton of “bad motives” but that Benghazi was a “failure of leadership.”
In response, Clinton pointed out that an accountability review board appointed by the State Department had determined that the mistakes made in responding to the Benghazi attack we’re made at levels below her office.
“I am the Secretary of State. And the [Accountability Review Board] made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the Assistant Secretary level and below,” she said.
The Secretary of State said a department task force has translated the 29 recommendations for improving security delivered by the review board into 64 specific “action items” and that 85 percent of the items are expected to be completed by the end of March.
Paul also asked Clinton about the possibility of the Benghazi attack being related to a CIA-backed scheme to collect weapons in Libya in order to clandestinely arm Syrian rebels.
“Is the U.S. involved with any procuring of weapons, transfer of weapons, buying, selling, anyhow transferring weapons to Turkey out of Libya?” he asked.
Clinton brushed off the question, saying: “To Turkey? I will have to take that question for the record. Nobody has ever raised that with me.”
Paul pressed on: “It’s been in news reports that ships have been leaving from Libya and that they may have weapons and what I’d like to know is the annex that was close by, were they involved with procuring, buying, selling, obtaining weapons and were any of these weapons being transferred to other countries, any countries, Turkey included?”
The Secretary of State suggested that Paul should take up the matter with the CIA.
Clinton concluded her prepared testimony by telling Congress that the United States must continue to garner influence in unstable parts of the world like the Mideast and Africa.
“We have come a long way in the past four years, and we cannot afford to retreat now,” she told the Senate committee. “When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer, and our security at home is threatened.”