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EDITORIAL: Misleading by example

The Benghazi debacle demonstrates that leadership makes a difference

- - Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tragedies matter, and when they're preventable, they matter even more. Two somber anniversaries are marked on Wednesday, commemorating days that Americans wish they could forget. It has been 12 years since the attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania that together claimed nearly 3,000 lives. It was only a year ago that four Americans, including an ambassador, died when Islamic terrorists overran the U.S. diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Hillary Clinton was in charge and should have accepted responsibility for her failure to heed warnings that could have prevented the debacle. The secretary of state at the time treated the squandered lives as if they were inconveniences along her way back to the White House. An organization called the National Constitution Center, for reasons not clear, has awarded its annual Liberty Medal to her leadership.

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, prospective Republican candidate for president and chairman of the board of the National Constitution Center, had the duty of handing the plaque to her on Tuesday. A careful reading of his words suggest that it was more duty than honor. "Former Secretary Clinton," he said, "has dedicated her life to serving and engaging people across the world in democracy. These efforts as a citizen, an activist, and a leader have earned Secretary Clinton this year's Liberty Medal."

It's hard to square even those words, spare and neutral as they were, with Mrs. Clinton's deeds in office. In the days before the terrorist assault in Benghazi, the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and security officials on the ground begged for more protection for a vulnerable mission. A secret cable sent three weeks before the attack detailed the extensive presence of al Qaeda and Ansar al-Shariah terrorists in the area and warned that the U.S. compound had neither the men nor equipment to repel a coordinated assault.

The Obama administration's accountability review board largely exonerated Mrs. Clinton without interviewing her. Instead, it put the blame on officials under her. Evading responsibility is not leadership, but evading responsibility is what we get, consistently, from this administration. President Obama, who has been leading from behind, where he is most comfortable, leads in Syria with no one following.

Harry S. Truman kept a little sign on his Oval Office desk proclaiming "The buck stops here." Mr. Obama should put a similar sign on his desk with Hillary Clinton's remarkable reply to a Senate question about what happened in Benghazi: "What difference, at this point, does it make?" Benghazi, like the anniversary of a September date in infamy 12 years ago, is the needed reminder that leadership does, too, matter.