No sooner did terrorists storm the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and kill Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others than the occasion became an issue in the presidential campaign.
Now, more than a month later and as President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney make final preparations for their second debate, Benghazi remains center stage. That’s valid, given the hedging the Obama administration has done recounting the events of Sept. 11 in Benghazi and then trying to explain why little was done to improve security despite multiple requests from Ambassador Stevens.
The politics of the Benghazi consulate were news again on Monday. That’s when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it is she who is responsible for security at U.S. diplomatic sites. She also acknowledged that she hoped to ward off “some kind of political gotcha or blame game. I know that we’re very close to an election,” she said, adding, “I want to just take a step back here and say from my own experience, we are at our best as Americans when we pull together. I’ve done that with Democratic presidents and Republican presidents.”
A diplomat, she was tactful. And she was right, both in saying the president can’t be expected to be in on every decision pertaining to U.S. embassies and consulates and in noting that we’re “at our best” when we pull together.
Yet Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, who complimented Secretary Clinton for sticking up for her boss and then issued a powerful rebuttal, also were right in saying President Obama was ultimately responsible for the tragedy in Benghazi. “The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the commander-in-chief. The buck stops there,” their statement said.
Whether the extra security Ambassador Stevens sought would have been enough to repel the attack and save his life will long be debated. However, it is fair to say the administration mishandled the reporting of events from Libya as they unfolded.
But if criticism of the administration is fair, so is taking to task Republicans, including Sens. McCain, Graham and Ayotte, for going to excessive lengths to politicize the consulate attack.
No reasonable person would challenge their assertion that the president is responsible for everything that happens on his watch. Neither, however, would a reasonable person expect the president — any president — to be intimately familiar with the security details of every U.S. embassy or consulate, even those in hostile lands.
We’d hope Sen. McCain would join Secretary Clinton in ensuring that no such attack occurs again.