Can Hillary Clinton get beyond Benghazi?

In her new memoir, Hillary Clinton says ‘Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me.’ Republicans see Benghazi as prime political territory.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaking in National Harbor, Md., May 6. To congressional Republicans, "Benghazi" is shorthand for incompetence and cover-up. Democrats hear it as the hollow sound of pointless investigations.

Whether or not she ever runs for president again, Hillary Clinton comes with a lot of politically-significant history – some of which qualifies as baggage.

Her time as an assertive first lady, especially on health care policy. Her voting record as a US senator. Her time as secretary of state in the Obama administration, which was marked by frequent flyer records but few major diplomatic breakthroughs.

The leaking of an important chapter in her new memoir “Hard Choices” (out June 10) gives a clue as to what Clinton herself thinks she needs to address head-on.

That’s the way she and the rest of the Obama team responded when Islamic militants attacked the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, killing American Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US personnel.

In a 34-page chapter titled “Benghazi: Under Attack” (obtained by Politico), Clinton writes that she “will not be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans.”

“It’s just plain wrong, and it’s unworthy of our great country,” she writes. “Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me.”

One of the main criticisms of the administration – including the Clinton-led State Department – is that the attack was initially portrayed, not as a terrorist attack, but as a spontaneous event in reaction to an anti-Islamic YouTube video.

But, Clinton writes, “There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives.”

“It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video,” she writes. “It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.”

But evidence and logic aren’t necessarily the primary drivers in politics, including Republican-led congressional investigations and the way Democrats are responding.

"Hillary has been playing politics with this since the beginning, and she is launching an organized political defense," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on "Fox News Sunday.” "Their people are trying to preempt or stop any more criticism that she’s been receiving on Benghazi."

“If she’s even thinking about running for president, I think she has been disqualified because of her actions here," Mr. Priebus added.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, Sen. Ted Cruz, (R) of Texas, said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had "deliberately stonewalled" on Benghazi.

“The Obama-Clinton foreign policy is a disaster,” Sen. Cruz said. “Every region of the world has gotten worse; America has weakened, our enemies have been strengthened.... From what we know about this book chapter, it’s pure political spam. And she’s more focused on blaming the vast right-wing conspiracy than the terrorists. The truth shouldn’t be partisan.”

Michael Czin, national press secretary for the Democratic National Committee, was quick to respond to such assertions. In a statement Sunday, he said:

“The fact is that there have already been 7 investigations into Benghazi, 25,000 documents have been provided and more than a dozen hearings held. While Republicans want to spend more time investigating what they have already investigated, they are refusing to act on important legislative priorities that will help grow the middle class, like paycheck fairness, raising the minimum wage or passing comprehensive immigration reform.”

In January, a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the attacks in Benghazi faulted the State Department for not securing the diplomatic mission there against known terrorist threats and concluded the attacks that left the four American personnel dead “were preventable.”

As Monitor diplomatic correspondent Howard LaFranchi reported at the time, the results of this investigation painted a disturbing picture of a lack of interagency coordination before the attacks and a bungling response in the 16 months since.

No matter how Clinton or her Republican political foes portray it, the Democratic presidential front-runner has a lot to deal with in the story of Benghazi.

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