“As I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility,” she said in her opening statement. “I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.”
The important task now, she added, was to move forward and make the changes – including granting the secretary of state the authority to shift existing State Department funding to needs, like increased security, that may arise – that she said could help head off similar tragedies in the future.
Clinton offered a broad assessment of instability and terrorism risks likely to exist across North and West Africa for years to come, and said the US would continue to grapple with balancing security challenges with the need to remain engaged in the world’s riskiest environments.
“This is going to be a very serious, ongoing threat,” she said. “We are in for a struggle, but it is a necessary struggle.”
Republicans seemed less interested in such lofty notions for the future than in revisiting the shortcomings revealed by Benghazi.
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, who worked closely with Clinton when she was a senator, told her “the answers you’ve given today are not satisfactory to me,” before later saying “I categorically reject your answer” as to why the State Department did not immediately debrief officials who survived the attack to get a clear idea more quickly as to what had happened.
The State Department “should have at least interviewed the people who were there,” Senator McCain said, suggesting that could have prevented the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, from going on Sunday news shows on Sept. 15 and giving answers that were “false.”
McCain did, however, expand his criticism beyond the specific failures in Benghazi, underscoring his view that it was the Obama administration’s insistence on a “soft footprint” – no US military on the ground – in Libya after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi that was “potentially responsible for the [Benghazi] tragedy.”