Willful Ignorance

by Dave Schuler on June 18, 2014

Victoria Toensing makes an interesting point about Hillary Clinton’s assertions of innocence:

In her interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer last week, Hillary Clinton said “I was not making security decisions” about Benghazi, claiming “it would be a mistake” for “a secretary of state” to “go through all 270 posts” and “decide what should be done.” And at a January 2013 Senate hearing, Mrs. Clinton said that security requests “did not come to me. I did not approve them. I did not deny them.”

Does the former secretary of state not know the law? By statute, she was required to make specific security decisions for defenseless consulates like Benghazi, and was not permitted to delegate them to anyone else.

I think that the Secretary was ignorant of the law is plausible. Keep in mind that just because she was a lawyer it doesn’t mean that she was a good lawyer. When she took the DC bar she was the only Ivy League grad to fail the first time around.

In her defense I suspect she was not ignorant of the law. I suspect she thought it didn’t apply to her.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

CStanley June 18, 2014 at 8:16 am

I suspect she’s counting on the ignorance of voters. She had a few lines in her responses that riffed off a reasonable assertion- that the people at the top of an organization are not expected to be experts on the details. I think she’s counting on people to accept that as a reasonable defense, but in reality of course the people at the top are expected to engage with the lower level experts and then sign off on decisions based on their recommendations.

This seems to be a systemic problem in our government, and in particular I think it’s starting to bite the Democratic Party in the ass The party that says that big government can do big things well can’t plausibly use the excuse that the leaders are making decisions about which they can’t reasonably be held accountable.

PD Shaw June 18, 2014 at 8:51 am

The linked article is a bit of a mess, or maybe I need to finish my second cup of joe. But it sounds like there is a law that requires embassies to be located in a single compound with a 100 foot setback, unless the requirement is waived by the Secretary of State. That seems to be a very specific “zoning” regulation, that seems to be different than Hillary’s point about not deciding where to station guards, determine blast walls, evaluate reinforcement levels.

Andy June 18, 2014 at 8:55 am

PD,

I think that law was passed after the East Africa bombings in the 1990′s – and then Congress refused to provide funding to bring embassies into compliance.

But this wasn’t an embassy, so I don’t think that really applies.

Regardless, the buck is supposed to stop with the Secretary of State. If security decisions were delegated, then why didn’t she fire the people who failed in their responsibility?

PD Shaw June 18, 2014 at 9:18 am

@Andy, yeah, looking at this Congressional Research Service report, it seems like this was some sort of temporary facility that may not have covered:

“Decisions by the Department’s senior leadership regarding the nature and extension of Special Mission Benghazi’s unclear status also left it outside normal procedures for funding and executing security measures, including office facility standards and accountability measures under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 and the Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB). As the Board’s report states, the Special Mission compound and Annex “was never a consulate and never formally notified to the Libyan government.” This fact is referred to as a “key driver behind the weak security platform in Benghazi.” ”

Also, in the report it mentions money allocated for security enhancements back in 1999, each year the Secretary was supposed to give Congress a prioritized list identifying each diplomatic facility or diplomatic or consular post and compound in need of replacement or for any major security enhancements. I wonder if this compound was identified, or if it fell through the cracks due to its unclear status?

... June 18, 2014 at 9:25 am

“In her defense ….”

That’s not a very convincing argument, counselor!

Guarneri June 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

“the people at the top of an organization are not expected to be experts on the details. I think she’s counting on people to accept that as a reasonable defense, but in reality of course the people at the top are expected to engage with the lower level experts and then sign off on decisions based on their recommendations.”

Bingo. We have a winner.

I know all politicians do it, but we used to have a press that called bullshit. That is, pols taking credit for the good and dodging blame for the bad. So Obama is a hero – practically single handedly killing bin Laden or saving the economy…..but only reading the papers about IRS scandals or the Middle East going up in flames or an economy stuck in the mud: what’s a single man to do??” Its point number one in the folly of turning over more resources and power to government.

I’ve had the good fortune to sit for about 20 years now on corporate boards with great management teams (a joy), medium management teams (a solvable homework problem) and bad teams (when you go “uh-oh,” and roll up your sleeves, start remediating, and make your money). I know people are sick of hearing it, but its just a plain truth. Obama? He’ falls in the third category. Hillary? Same. And its not going to get any better.

As CStanley points out, Obama and Hillary are masters of being there taking credit for the good times and absent, or supposed innocent bystanders, during the bad. Its great for posturing as candidates and getting elected, but a real problem when leadership is required.

But at least we have the important stuff, like gay marriage and a robust economy………oh, wait……..

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