WASHINGTON, May 13, 2013 ― Despite Rand Paul’s attacks on Hillary Clinton for her actions during the crisis in Benghazi last September, Benghazi will not keep Hillary Clinton from the presidency in 2016.
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton oversaw Department of State operations in Libya. In this highly important Cabinet post, Clinton could have ― should have ― overseen sending additional security to Libya after Ambassador Christopher Stevens made the request.
However, there is no scenario where Clinton can carry the full blame for the failures at Benghazi.
She could not have ordered military support into Benghazi after the attack started. Likewise, she could not have ordered troops to stand down. Clinton was not in charge of the military, nor could she have mobilized military support.
Based on her standing in the Administration, Clinton may have been in a position to influence decision-making, but she headed neither the Department of Defense nor the Central Intelligence Agency and was not capable of making the final decision.
Clinton was likely acting on intelligence not only from her organization, but also from the Central Intelligence Agency and others. One question is why the Agency, which had an annex in Benghazi, did not increase its own security if it perceived an increased threat in the area?
As the investigation continues, one possibility is that Clinton takes the blame for the Benghazi tragedy. Even if this happens, it will not expunge her chances of becoming President. This move would ring hollow to government insiders as well as the American public because, as noted above, Clinton was not in charge of any military operations in the region. If she takes full blame, many will believe she is shielding President Obama, not that she was truly to blame.
One hint that this scenario is not likely to materialize is Clinton’s absence after the Benghazi attacks. Washington insiders find it interesting that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice instead of Secretary Clinton took the public relations helm concerning Benghazi. Could it be that Clinton refused to carry the water for the Administration?
Another possibility is that Clinton will blame President Obama for the failures. Under this scenario, she could distance herself from the other failings and scandals of the Administration and at least diminish any potential taint as the election approaches.
This possibility is also not highly likely. While there are much-discussed tensions between the Obama and the Clinton camps, the Democrats know they need both Clinton and Obama to sew up a win in 2016. It is unlikely Clinton would risk disparaging her boss to such a degree that she would alienate his supporters. Moreover, because she was very much a part of the Administration, this approach would risk splattering some of the blame back on Clinton.
The most likely scenario is that an investigation will find that Benghazi was a failure across the board. The government failed to accurately assess the threat of Islamist extremists in Benghazi before the attack. The government failed to make accurate on-the-spot appraisals of the situation as it was happening. The government failed to rescue the American’s in the compound even after the initial attack. The government failed to carry out an immediate investigation of the attack.
No organization or official can claim success in Benghazi. It was a failure that implicates the entire intelligence, security and diplomatic community. It implicates every high-level member of the Obama Administration.
The views of the American public are as important as the actual actions in Benghazi. The American public also seems disinclined to punish Clinton politically for the tragedy.
In fact, Benghazi is not the overriding election issue for Americans. A new poll by Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling found that a majority of voters, 56 percent to 38 percent, said passing immigration reform is more important than investigating Benghazi. A majority also said passing a bill that requires background checks for gun purchases should be a priority over Benghazi by 52-43 percent. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they did not think Benghazi was the biggest political scandal in American history, and 49 percent trust Clinton more than congressional Republicans on the issue, while 39 percent trust the Republicans more. More than half of the respondents, 52 percent, view Clinton favorably while 57 percent view congressional Republicans unfavorably.
Another poll, by the Pew Research Center, found that 56 percent of Americans said they are not at all following the hearings on Benghazi or the developments. Forty-four percent said they are tracking it closely, down from 61 percent in September.
Anecdotal information supports this view. Of the hundreds of stories published in the Communities from September 2012 to May 13, 2013, the top three most-read are Reagan’s home could become a parking lot for Obama’s library, The Bill of Rights was written for Dzhokar Tsarnaev, and How to disable Java following Homeland Security warning.
The top-ranked Benghazi story comes in at number 145, well after updates on the health of Lil’ Wayne and the results of Dancing with the Stars.
Presidential polls continue to show Clinton leading any potential rival in the race. Most recently, an early May poll by Quinnipiac University gave Clinton 65 percent of the Democratic vote. A Public Policy Polling report of New Hampshire voters in late April showed Clinton beating Rand Paul by 11 points and Marco Rubio by 14 points. With moderate voters, Clinton wins by more than 40 points against Paul and Rubio. She holds sizeable leads with moderate voters against Paul (68/20) and Rubio (67/18). Polls in Florida also give Clinton a large lead among Democrats, with “no clear choice” for Republicans.
Nationally, Clinton leads all other contenders, including all Republican contenders.
So, while Rand Paul would likely prefer to run against someone ― anyone ― other than Hillary Clinton, there is no indication that the Benghazi tragedy is threatening to knock Clinton out of the presidential race.
Hillary Clinton may carry some blame for the deaths of the Americans in Benghazi, but with or without a full Congressional investigation, her role in the tragedy will not keep her from running for President.
If Clinton does not run, or if she loses, it is unlikely that the reason will be Benghazi.
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