Sure, Benghazi Was Bad. But Are 77,000 Benghazis Better?

Jamie Kanter
6 min readDec 18, 2020


In the 2016 election, chants of “Lock her up” were commonplace at Trump rallies. It stemmed from a variety of arguments against the Democratic standard-bearer, but none was more visceral than Benghazi. One word defined exactly why Clinton couldn’t be trusted.

It was one of the most effective counterarguments to Clinton’s ascension, as she was in charge of a failure that killed Americans.

The 2012 Benghazi attack was, by all measures, a tragedy for the US. If you’ve forgotten the details, a terror group coordinated an attack at two sites, killing 4 Americans, including CIA operatives and the US Ambassador.

The details have come to light over time, but they are not debatable. We know who did it and we know that it wasn’t as it first seemed. We know that there were significant misses in the leadup to the attacks. And we know that the follow-up was imperfect. From there, opinions diverge.

In the pro-Clinton column, there were a few key narratives.

· First, Libya is a dangerous place and foreign service there is always going to be risky.

· Second, the embassy and CIA operatives will always be targets for terrorists, as they are a symbol of what many consider American “occupation” of foreign soil.

· Third, the subsequent justification of the attacks (as part of protests rather than as a planned terror event) was seemingly an honest mistake rather than deliberate misdirection.

· Fourth, despite many key Congressional committees looking into the events, none of them found significant fault with the State Department.

Regardless of that, however, Benghazi served as an albatross around Clinton’s neck. She never could shake off the events leading up to, and following, the attacks. This incident showcased her lack of candor and leadership in a critical moment and it stuck with her throughout her unsuccessful campaign.

For today, we’re going to assume that her detractors were right: Hillary Clinton was a poor leader, based primarily on the Benghazi incident.

Assuming that Clinton, as Secretary of State, was the responsible party and fumbled the Benghazi situation poorly (the “lock her up” version), we can boil it down to three key errors.

First, she should have followed warnings and been prepared for an attack. Ambassador Stevens, who died in the attack, had recorded a surge in al-Qaeda presence in the area and expressed worry about being on a “hit list” for terrorists. The intelligence community had requested additional security forces to protect the embassy and its occupants.

The State Department ignored those requests. Personnel in the area were less well-protected than they might have been. They knew and did nothing to prevent it.

Second, Clinton and her department botched the aftermath of the attacks and deliberately misled the American public about what happened. If you recall, Secretary Clinton and Susan Rice suggested that the attack was a response to a controversial film or a part of other protests, rather than acknowledging that it was a well-coordinated terror attack.

The State Department continued to push this simplistic narrative until more information came out to the American public. The department had to abandon its story once it became clear that no one was buying it anymore. They knew what had happened, but tried to downplay its impact.

Third, Clinton never fully admitted her wrongdoing to the families or the American public. Instead, she continued to fight against charges that she’d misled the people and railed against Congressional oversight of her actions. If she had admitted that she was wrong, it would have interfered with the narrative that al-Qaeda was running scared and that she was making the world safer for Americans.

The State Department pushed back against Congress and against the press, trying to minimize the damage to the department and to Clinton’s political ambitions. They knew they messed up, but they wouldn’t admit it publicly.

If we assume the worst about the Benghazi attacks, it paints a picture of a leader that was out of touch with reality, ignoring warning signs, and deliberately misleading the public. Lock her up, indeed.

Looking back at the election from four years ago, there was genuine outrage over Clinton’s failed leadership. She couldn’t be trusted to lead because she lost 4 American lives unnecessarily and then tried to downplay the tragedy.

I am not one to diminish that loss of life or the needless suffering of those families, both as the attacks happened and in the frustrating aftermath. If someone voted against that type of negligent leadership, it’s hard to fault them.

I do have a question for those folks though: Where is that same outrage today?

Yesterday, December 17th, 2020, we saw 823 Benghazis. 903 the day before. These numbers are increasing by roughly a 9/11 each day.

Since we started counting in March, we’ve seen over 77 THOUSAND Benghazis.

And yet, against that backdrop, where are those vocal anti-Clinton voices now? Why are they not screaming at our elected officials for overseeing a far worse disaster, with a far higher death toll? In fact, most of those same people that foamed at the mouth over the Benghazi tragedy currently defend the administration as “doing all that can be done” or calling the coronavirus pandemic overblown.

I beseech you to look at the parallels.

They knew and did nothing to prevent it. We know that the president was briefed in December 2019 and in January 2020 about the pandemic. Reports were clear that this was going to be a disaster. President-Elect Joe Biden wrote an op-ed for USA Today warning about the virus on January 27, 2020 and Peter Navarro, Trump’s own economic advisor, shared predictions of a dramatic death toll just two days later.

What happened next? A few days later, the administration limited travel from China. This restriction allowed “only” 40,000 more people to come in from that country, but the highly-contagious virus had already arrived. And after that? Nothing. There was no other significant policy change that would have impacted the virus’s impact within the US. We were on our own.

They knew what had happened and tried to downplay its impact. This isn’t a theory anymore, as the president is on tape having said exactly this. To Bob Woodward he said “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.” That was in March, after doing nothing to prepare for the coming onslaught of the virus. Before that, on February 27, he said “It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Yet 20 days before the “miracle” speech and a month before admitting to Woodward that he’d been downplaying things, Trump told the veteran journalist: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

To be clear: He knew that it was more deadly. He knew that it was passed through the air. He knew that it had already entered the country. Yet he was telling us all not to worry.

They knew they messed up, but they wouldn’t admit it publicly. What if, instead of steadfastly refusing to say publicly what he knew privately, the president had reversed course and simply said, “this is a serious issue and we need to address it as such?” What if he had encouraged people to wear masks and to support each other rather than fomenting discord and attempted kidnappings. Would we have been better off as a nation? Would we have bonded together to fight an invisible enemy? I’m not sure, but I would’ve liked our chances a lot more.

Tribal politics is here to stay and I make no claim that we are bound to get better as a country in the near future. People who vilified Hillary for Benghazi will bend over backward to defend Trump, despite the hypocrisy inherent therein.

For those that still support the outgoing president, please know that you are supporting the leader of one of the most poorly-managed disasters in the history of the country.

If Hillary was bad as Secretary of State, then President Trump is the captain of Hindenburg, steering the Titanic, in the Bermuda Triangle, sipping a New Coke, nibbling on some Wow Chips, listening to his Zune, and watching Cats on his Google Glass.