Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played the role of dutiful soldier on Monday, doing her best to douse the political firestorm stemming from the assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya by saying that she was responsible for the security of American diplomatic outposts.
“I take responsibility,” Clinton told CNN from Lima, Peru. “I’m in charge of the State Department’s 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts.”
She added, “The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.”
Clinton also said that the United States had been aware that militants were regrouping in Libya and that they would attempt to re-establish bases.
The United States now reportedly has special operations forces on standby in the region ready to strike suspected terrorists.
“We will track them down, whoever did this, and hold them accountable and bring them to justice,” Clinton said. “Our track record is pretty good. Eventually, we will find you.”
The Obama administration has been heavily criticized after Vice-President Joe Biden said during last week’s vice presidential debate that the White House did not know of requests to enhance security at Benghazi, contradicting testimony by State Department employees that requests had been made and rejected. After the debate, the White House said the vice president did not know of the requests because they were handled, as is the practice, by the State Department.
Clinton said President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not involved in security decisions.
“I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she added, noting that it is close to the election.
Clinton also sought to downplay the criticism that administration officials continued to say the attack was a spontaneous product of a protest over an anti-Muslim film, a theory that has since been discarded. In the wake of an attack, there is always confusion, Clinton said. But the information has since changed, she said.
The secretary of state also described the desperate scene in the State Department during the hours of the attack on the night of the assault. It was an “intense, long ordeal” as staff tried to find out what had happened.
Clinton said her mission now is to make sure such an attack will never happen again, but also that diplomacy, even in dangerous areas like Benghazi, is not stopped.
“We can’t not engage,” she said. “We cannot retreat.”
Meanwhile, as the situation in Syria deteriorates, there has been talk of a no-fly zone similar to the one established in Libya.
“This has been under discussion among allies,” Clinton said. “There has been no decision made, but everyone knows what the Assad regime is doing is a brutal assault on the people. We need a clear commitment of support to the opposition inside Syria and outside.”