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Dorian's Corner - Commentaries / Opinions

Clinton Leadership During Benghazi

A major concern to me was whether Hillary Clinton, head of the State Department during the Benghazi attack that killed diplomats in a very dangerous area, had shown the right kind of leadership during this time. Did her leadership contribute to the disaster?

The "fog of war" was complicated by the "fog of politics," obscuring what really happened. Seven investigations, and independent books by defense contractors in the area, shed very little new light on what actually happened, due to the "fog of self interest."

Democrats and Republicans both came out with new reports from the latest, and hopefully last, investigation. These investigations are costly and divisive, and like a pickup truck in a mud pit, throw mud in all directions. Yet they have had some value. The military testified that the military response time was admirable, and there were no assets in the area that could have helped. Even available war planes would have been useless. Not quite accurate.

The US military was not directly responsible for the defense of State Department personnel. It might have been, had that been a direct mission assignment. The US Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is directly responsible for personnel security. DS has been criticized for having operated like a lone wolf for many years, and for not coordinating with other defense assets, often citing "law enforcement sensitive issues." They have been taken to task by Congressmen to get their act together.

Like in many bureaucracies, leaders of departments tend to guard their turf and be uncooperative with others. They tend to make decisions without the rest of the bureaucracy looking over their shoulders. While Clinton was included in email from Ambassador Stephens on the need for additional security, and there were improvements made for security, was it Clinton's place to intervene in that department, or to think that they knew what they were doing and leave it to them? Good leaders delegate and don't micromanage. The department was a stable environment of professionals.

The US military, which could not have reached the site in time, has also been taken to task by Congressmen. Military units do have tactical response groups in places like Spain, but they received conflicting signals about uniforms and arms, and delays from their overseers. They have improved this.

Bringing US military personnel into a sovereign country to attack people in that country is not a slam dunk task. It involves diplomacy and a number of other people. The most recent Republican report was hardest on the US military. It's good that weaknesses in the system are pointed out, even if they have already been addressed. But the report begs the question of whether these Congressmen really understand the complexity of international diplomacy, or do they think you just shoot everyone you don't like. The hawkish stance doesn't sit well with many Americans.

Additionally the CIA admitted to an "intelligence failure" during the Benghazi attack. Specifically what, I don't know.

The Republican report remains highly critical of the Obama administration position of having "no boots on the ground" in these highly volatile areas. It blames this as a weakness that prevented adequate defense.

The reality was that there were armed guards at the compound, probably 7. There was a defense contingent of at least seven civilian contractors, somehow associated with the CIA, within a mile of the compound. There were civilian militias with whom they had relationships, who potentially could have helped. These defense contractors were not high profile boots on the ground that would spark conflict.

During the attack, the CIA agent working with the contractors consulted with higher ups, and this caused a delay. The contractors were highly critical of this, but there also was no plan ready to counter this specific attack, so they also took time to make one. Leaders don't just throw people into battle, no matter how willing those people are. They are responsible for their lives.

Leadership

How do you judge effective leadership? There are so many different leadership styles, and some are more effective than others in different situations. You are always dealing with the personalities of those who serve. You always have those who protect their own turf, and avoid any interference. You always have the "experts" who think only they can do the job, and those outside looking in are very unwelcome. You always have those who shirk responsibility, and when you ask them, they point both directions away from them.

You judge leadership based on performance. Certainly there are the miracle workers who move up every two years by leaving behind a trail of destruction. You investigate what they leave behind. The State Department is full of career diplomats who are experts on different areas of the world. They are somewhat resistant to Presidents and Secretaries who try to make changes. But that's typical of organizations.

Generally leaders change things slowly and give people time to adjust. The New Orleans flood response is typical of what happens when you don't. FEMA had a good response record until incorporated into Homeland Security. The US military, and State Department, have had very rapid changes in their missions and makeup during two presidencies.

Like the failure during the Bush Administration to effectively send assistance to New Orleans flood victims... for weeks... what happened in Benghazi was a systemic failure caused by lack of preparedness at several levels of government. Unlike Benghazi, New Orleans didn't take seven politically motivated hearings to rectify. For Benghazi, the governmental weaknesses were already addressed despite the last hearing, even if there were CYA positions taken by some who testified or were called on to provide information.

Ambassador Stephens was a leader. He chose to do this work in a highly volatile area. He knew the risks and dangers. He wanted to open a consulate in Libya. He reportedly was ambiguous about the amount of required defense, but had sent emails to the State Department requesting more defense. Apparently the DS did not agree and didn't send more personnel, although it upgraded some defense relevant things.

Just like Bush is responsible for the failure to deliver aid to New Orleans, and the Corp of Engineers is responsible for the failure of upgrading dams there, and the Department of Homeland Security was responsible for failure to mobilize an inherited emergency response group that it had not fully vetted, while it was trying to do everything else in a climate of terrorism and budget limitations, yes the leaders are responsible, but sometimes they get caught with their pants down. Too much was changing too fast. You can only do so much at one time. Sometimes the departments leaders trust, and to whom they have delegated responsibility, fail to deliver. Sometimes preparedness is secondary to reorganization and higher priority missions, and things fall through the cracks.

Newer leadership styles have automatic problem escalation. For example, when requests are repeatedly not addressed, more people higher up the chain get involved and have meetings on the request. The result might be the same, or it might be different. But the organization is not intransigent or neglectful, and both sides are fully heard.

Leadership evolves, particularly in response to criticism. The police killings of blacks and others has resulted in continuous criticism that is definitely changing how the police operate. Cameras are becoming standard equipment. Tasers are often used instead of guns. Coercion is no longer allowed in interrogation because it gets false confessions and may be thrown out of court. The "force continuum," which describes the escalation of force used during encounters is now being altered with de-escalation techniques so that everyone walks away in many circumstances. De-escalation VS escalation.

Police leadership listens to criticism and responds. But those police who follow the procedures their department issues, are deemed not responsible for deaths, even though other departments may follow better procedures. Maybe there are better ways for leaders to handle situations. Leadership evolves.

Was Clinton an effective leader over the State Department during Benghazi? The last hearing did not blame Clinton. The evidence is in her favor: More likely than not exercised good leadership.