If the Plan to Beat Hillary Is 'Benghazi,' the GOP Is in Trouble

The alleged scandal didn't matter in Election 2012, and it is very unlikely to matter in Election 2016 either.
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Richard A. Bloom

What is Rand Paul thinking?

The Kentucky senator is among the Republicans doing their best to discredit Hillary Clinton for the way that she handled the attack in Benghazi. Since she is no longer the secretary of State, there is only one reason to focus attacks on her person: to discredit her as an Election 2016 candidate.

Is that a defensible priority right now? Isn't 2013 a bit early for it even from a purely pragmatic perspective?

If details emerge that tell us something we don't know about Clinton and Benghazi, there is plenty of time to use them. If no details emerge, it is bizarre to think this particular controversy will meaningfully impact her chances at winning the Democratic nomination or the general election. Unless this is a cynical play to the most irrational parts of the Republican base, which could conceivably derive pleasure from seeing Clinton attacked and reward whatever politician does it, there is no case to be made that Paul is making good use of his scarce face time with this message.

Republicans were convinced, prior to Election 2012, that Benghazi was a promising political issue. And despite all the subsequent evidence to the contrary, they seem to be pinning their 2016 hopes on Benghazi too. Is this seriously the best critique of Democratic foreign policy they've got?

Paul is a particularly bizarre carrier of this message.

Unlike Republicans who lean neocon, he can criticize Clinton on her Iraq War record, her participation in an administration that violated the War Powers Resolution in Libya, and her support for President Obama's drone campaign, which Paul raised his profile considerably by opposing.

Meanwhile, the particular Benghazi criticisms that Paul is making fit uneasily with his repeatedly articulated preference for small government non-interventionism and foreign policy realism.

Here's Alexander Burns laying out Paul's Benghazi critique:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Friday that he considers Hillary Clinton "absolutely responsible" for failing to stop the chaos and bloodshed at the American diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, last September. Speaking to reporters ahead of his address to the Iowa GOP's Lincoln Dinner this evening, Paul accused Clinton of ignoring diplomatic security as secretary of State. He expressed disbelief at suggestions that Clinton should be absolved of blame because diplomatic security-related cables never got to her. Clinton is "absolutely responsible," Paul said. "She was in charge of the State Department. She was asked repeatedly for increased security for Benghazi. Some of the media have been reporting that because she didn't read them she's protected - she wasn't responsible because she didn't read them? I fault her absolutely for not reading the cables." Paul added, "Part of being in charge is triaging what comes to your desk and what doesn't come to your desk. And to say that Libya wasn't important enough for her to be reading the cables from the ambassador asking for more security, I think was inexcusable."

The first-term senator and potential presidential candidate likened the terrorist attack in Benghazi, and the subsequent U.S. response, to the Black Hawk Down catastrophe in Somalia in the 1990s. "It was, I think, a tragic lack of leadership, similar to what Les Aspin did in Mogadishu under Bill Clinton. And he ultimately resigned his office," Paul said. Drilling ahead, he criticized the State Department for its claim that it didn't have enough money to spend on diplomatic security, and argued that the Benghazi facility should have been under military control in the first place. "We spent $300,000 on dog kennels [through the federal government]. There is money out there. A good leader finds that money and puts it in," Paul said. The mission in Benghazi, he continued "should have been under the military. It should have been done the way Baghdad was ... There should have been 100 Marines guarding the ambassador."

Really?

One hundred Marines with boots on the ground in Benghazi is the preemptive course Paul would've had her take? It's hard to imagine that line or the Iraq comparison going over well with his base of support. And Paul is never going to win a GOP primary if he and Marco Rubio are competing to one-up one another about how many Marines they'd have had protecting Ambassador Stevens.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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