Benghazi report could tarnish Clinton’s legacy

The Benghazi report released Tuesday night bemoans “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” in Hillary Clinton's State Department that could come back to haunt her should she run for president in 2016.

Clinton remains one of the nation's most popular politicians and has worked tirelessly to improve America's image abroad following President George W. Bush's tenure. The independent review of the attack of Sept. 11, 2012, however, tarnishes that legacy by faulting the department for failing to put in place a coordinated approach for handling security, even if it does not single anyone out for disciplinary action.

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“The Board found that certain senior State Department officials ... in critical positions of authority and responsibility in Washington demonstrated a lack of proactive leadership and management ability appropriate for the State Department’s senior ranks,” the report concludes in its section on accountability of personnel.

The terrorist attack on the U.S. mission that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans became a rallying cry for conservative critics of President Obama's national security policies during the presidential campaign. The attack has already claimed one political scalp, with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice dropping out of contention for the secretary of State job in the face of intense Republican criticism after she initially linked the Benghazi attack to a peaceful protest gone awry.

Some Clinton critics didn't even wait for the report to come out. Following reports that she would not testify before Congress on the board's findings this week because she's been sick with a stomach virus, former Ambassador John Bolton accused her of lying to avoid giving public testimony that could be damaging to her legacy.

“I think she was waiting for the report so she could find out what it said and then fashion her testimony accordingly,” Bolton told Fox News on Monday night. “There is nothing more embarrassing than to say something and then have it contradicted and have to change your story later.”

The report was prepared by an independent, bipartisan Accountability Review Board (ARB) headed by retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Unclassified portions were made public late Tuesday ahead of House and Senate hearings on Thursday. Lawmakers will also receive a closed briefing on classified parts of the report Wednesday.

Clinton sought to get ahead of the congressional response in an eight-page letter accompanying the report. In it, she endorses the report's 29 recommendations and points to several changes her department has already made since the attack, including instituting periodic reviews of the 15 to 20 high-threat posts.

The report “provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix,” Clinton wrote in the letter to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and other leaders on the House and Senate Foreign Affairs panels. “Because of steps we began taking in the hours and days after the attacks, this work is well under way.”

Clinton in her letter also puts Benghazi in the context of other deadly attacks against U.S. missions abroad that have occurred under her predecessors.

“Benghazi,” she writes, “joins a long list: hostages taken in Tehran in 1979, our embassy and Marine barracks bombed in Beirut in 1983, Khobar Towers in 1996, our embassies in East Africa in 1998, consulate staff murdered in Jeddah in 2004, the Khost tragedy in 2009, and so many others.”

Republicans say Benghazi is in a class of its own because it's the first time a U.S. ambassador has been murdered since 1979.

But the ARB report doesn't just focus on the executive branch. Clinton's critics in Congress also come in for their share of criticism for their penny-pinching attitude toward the State Department.

“For many years the State Department has been engaged in a struggle to obtain the resources necessary to carry out its work, with varying degrees of success,” the report concludes. This has led some managers to “favor restricting the use of resources as a general orientation."

“The solution requires a more serious and sustained commitment from Congress to sustain State Department needs, which, in total, constitute a small percentage both of the full national budget and that spent for national security,” the report found. “One overall conclusion in this report is that Congress must do its part to meet this challenge and provide necessary resources to the State Department to address security risks and meet mission imperatives.”