"This is Libya’s moment. This is Libya’s victory and the future belongs to you.”
--Hillary Clinton, October 17, 2011
That was our Secretary of State on a visit to Libya almost a year ago, when administration was touting the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi as its biggest foreign policy triumph after killing Usama Bin Laden–and the success of “leading from behind.” Well, now we know that leading from behind was just the excuse for a policy of weakness and passivity–and the cost of that weakness in American prestige and lives, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Remember that Hillary Clinton ad in the 2008 presidential campaign, about who we would want answering that phone call to the Oval Office at 3 a.m.? Now we can assume she would answer the same way she’s handled this Libyan debacle: with weakness, prevarication, and stunning misjudgment.
As details leak out about the events leading up to the brutal murder of Stevens and three other Americans, it’s becoming obvious the State Department knowingly put Stevens in danger of his life, and Secretary Clinton needs to take the lion’s share of the blame.
After all, Benghazi was no remote tropical post. Clinton was the first cabinet-level visitor to Libya back in October after Qaddafi’s fall. Libya has been a major focus of the administration’s policy on the Arab Spring, which has been to get the US out of the way and let the locals run wild. All the talk has been about the success of America’s hands off policy in Libya, even as armed militias were not only roaming the streets but taking over security, including supposedly protecting our consulate in Benghazi.
The British knew better. A rocket-propelled grenade attack on an embassy motor convoy on June 11 in Benghazi led them to close their consulate there, but ours stayed open even after someone exploded a bomb nearby five days before.
Then as the September 11 anniversary loomed, nervous Libyan officials issued a warning to the American embassy three days beforehand about the danger of an attack–a warning Clinton and the State Department ignored.
Ambassador Stevens himself was worried. Pages from his diary found by CNN note his fears about security threats, a rise in Islamic extremism in Libya, and even that he might be on a Islamist “hit list.” Yet the State Department still gave him no security detail for his visit to Benghazi–and the two Navy SEALs who died at his side had volunteered to help, since no one from the State Department was stepping up.
Finally, diplomatic sources say forty-eight hours before the attack State Department officials got “credible intelligence” that there might be attacks on US diplomatic missions on the 9/11 anniversary: yet did nothing to alert anyone in Libya, Cairo, or anywhere else.
Then Secretary Clinton compounded her failure by insisting, even after the Libyan president said there was no doubt the Benghazi attack was “coordinated” and “preplanned, ” that the deaths were the result of spontaneous demonstrations caused by a six-month old You Tube video, not by our failed policy and State’s crass negligence.
Almost a week after our government's head of the Counterterrorism Center admitted to Congress it was a “terror attack,” she’s said nothing to correct her version of events. In fact, the weekend after the murders, as that version was steadily unraveling, she let UN ambassador Susan take the flack-and perpetuate the lie.
So what’s Hillary been doing lately? Appearing on Pakistani TV in a groveling apology for that same video–even as Pakistanis were rioting in the streets, killing 14 and wounding 70; the Al Qaeda flag has been raised over the US embassy in Cairo; and Libya is racing closer to chaos and civil war.
The Secretary of State is the person most responsible for how the United States presents itself to other nations–and protecting those who do that job for us.
In normal times, under a normal president, Hillary Clinton’s performance on both would be enough to force her to step down. But these aren’t normal times. So for now, she’s still at the helm at State-- to our nation’s shame.
Historian Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institutein Washington, D.C. He is author of seven books, including New York Times bestseller "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" (2001); the Pulitzer Prize Finalist "Gandhi and Churchill"(2008); "To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World" (nominated for the UK's Mountbatten Prize); and the highly acclaimed "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II," which The Economist magazine picked as one of the Best Books of 2012. His most recent work is "The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization" (Random House 2013). Follow him on Twitter@ArthurLHerman.