Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other Republicans have promised to grill Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi attack which happened last fall. That event resulted in the death of four State Department employees, including Ambassador Christopher Stephens.
While Paul and the GOP appear to have legitimate reasons for pressing Secretary Clinton, including evident oversight on security for the Benghazi Mission, Paul may also have personal political reasons for pursuing a hard line of questioning for the recently ill secretary: Both Clinton and Paul are strong contenders for their respective parties’ nomination in the 2016 presidential election.
This speculation is based on the viability of both these two political luminaries as party favorites for the big election four years from now and the very early poll numbers that may have Senator Paul jittery about Clinton.
The Legitimate Criticisms
After the Benghazi Attack last September, Secretary Clinton convened an Accountability Review Board (ARB), as required by law, to examine and analyze the causes of the sudden and lethal attack. The board subsequently issued an unclassified report detailing their findings.
The Senate's bipartisan report is equally revealing in the security lapses made by the leadership of the State Department.
These failures were also noted by Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), the next presumptive secretary of state, in hearings following the ARB report:
It is only natural that Senator Paul and his fellow Republicans are poised to pounce on Clinton for the following reasons.
First, the security at the mission was highly lacking, according to the ARB report: "Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department (the “Department”) resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
Second, the State Department did not treat Benghazi as a real security problem which warranted top of the line security. The ARB report noted: "Another key driver behind the weak security platform in Benghazi was the decision to treat Benghazi as a temporary, residential facility, not officially notified to the host government, even though it was also a full-time office facility,” the report states. “This resulted in the Special Mission compound being excepted from office facility standards and accountability under the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act of 1999 (SECCA) and the Overseas Security Policy Board (OSPB)."
Third, the State Department and White House leadership were well aware of the high security risks attached to the Benghazi mission, as noted by the Senate report: "In the months leading up to the attack on the Temporary Mission Facility in Benghazi, there was a large amount of evidence gathered by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and from open sources that Benghazi was increasingly dangerous and unstable, and that a significant attack against American personnel there was becoming much more likely. While this intelligence was effectively shared within the Intelligence Community (IC) and with key officials at the Department of State, it did not lead to a commensurate increase in security at Benghazi nor to a decision to close the American mission there, either of which would have been more than justified by the intelligence presented."
The list of troubling factors for the poor security at the Benghazi mission goes on, but these issues serve to prove the point that give Paul and company a compelling list of reasons to say, "I think [Secretary Clinton] has to accept responsibility for Benghazi...She needs to be held accountable for it, and I think she needs to answer questions for it."
2016 Presidential Election Preview
The current signs indicate that Paul sees Clinton as a serious political foe and that he's preparing to run in 2016.
To start, there's are the poll numbers that have Paul losing to Clinton, in Paul's Kentucky, if they went head-to-head in 2016.
Then there are his remarks about Clinton, which stand out for their ferocity and calculated political nauture.
After his weeklong factfinding mission, Paul spoke to Business Insider, during which he said, "In government, there is usually an incentive to overspend when it comes to security. You're in charge of security in Benghazi and someone asks you for a 16-person detail — and the security people on the ground in Libya are asking you for it — it's impossible to say no. So how did someone possibly say no to that security? That's an incredible ineptness."
He showed some of his personal calculation when he said this of Clinton, "[The Benghazi Attack] was an enormous mistake [for Clinton] ... It was a career-ending mistake [for Clinton], I think."
It's apparent that Paul is going for the jugular in hitting Clinton so hard. This compounds in effect with the other factors surrounding Paul's 2016 dreams and his libertarian views of smaller government and less U.S. foreign involvement.
To be sure, all of these reasons for why Paul will be particularly harsh and sharp with Clinton are largely based on speculation and clues provided by current polling and buzz surrounding the candidacy of Paul and Clinton. They are convincing to a degree, though one wonders if that's true given the legitimate criticisms.
We'll know more once the hearing on the Benghazi attack is finished.