Since his election victory last month, President Barack Obama has suffered a series of foreign and national security policy and personnel mishaps and embarrassments. First, there was the sudden resignation of CIA director David Petraeus after he admitted having an extramarital affair. Next came the withdrawal of U.N. envoy Susan Rice from consideration as the next secretary of state in the wake of misleading comments she made about the Sept. 11 attacks on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
And Obama’s troubles continued this week as the five-member Accountability Review Board (ARB) appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to investigate the Benghazi attack issued its findings. The panel said, “Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” in the State Department led to a “security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”
The Independent Report slammed the State Department for "systematic failures" that grossly underestimated security needs at the U.S. mission in Benghazi leading to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., discusses.
In the attack Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans -- Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith -- were killed.
Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., slated to be the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Wednesday that Clinton “has to come before us. I think it’s imperative.”
Corker and other members of Congress were given a classified briefing on the report and afterwards he insisted that Clinton must testify before she leaves her post and the Senate votes on confirmation of her successor.
The secretary was slated to attend briefings on the Hill this week but has been recovering from the flu and a concussion she suffered in a recent fainting episode.
Once rumored to be that successor at the State Department was Ambassador Rice. But she took herself out of contention after some Republican senators said her statements that the Benghazi attack was a response to an anti-Islamic video were misleading. They implied that she and the president had tried to keep voters from learning the truth about the attack before Election Day.
With Rice having bowed out, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seems to be a near-certainty as Obama’s nominee to head the State Department.
The Benghazi review board was headed by veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering, who has served in his 40-year career as an ambassador to six nations. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen was the vice chairman of the board.
The unclassified portions of the ARB report which were released Wednesday painted a picture of a State Department under Clinton which was not functioning well.
The panel placed responsibility on officials in her department for failing to adequately protect the facility in Benghazi.
The number of State Department security staff in Benghazi on the day of the attack and in the months leading up to it was inadequate, the board found, “despite repeated requests from Special Mission Benghazi and Embassy Tripoli for additional staffing.”
Gary Cameron / Reuters
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers remarks at the State Department in Washington on the deaths of U.S. embassy staff in Benghazi in this September 12, 2012 file photo.
And it said that despite efforts by the Defense Department and other agencies, “There simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.”
In the aftermath of the report, an official told NBC News on Wednesday that Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell is resigning.
On Wednesday, after the closed briefing by Pickering and Mullen, Kerry praised the work of the ARB.
“Secretary Clinton committed to doing this report and said it would be a completely unvarnished appraisal, which it is,” Kerry said.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the unclassified version of the report “omits important information the public has a right to know. This includes details about the perpetrators of the attack in Libya as well as the less-than-noble reasons contributing to State Department decisions to deny security resources.”
He also said, “In light of the report, I am concerned that the carefully vetted testimony of senior State Department officials at the October hearing was part of an intentional effort to mislead the American people.”
While tussling continues over the State Department, the question of who will lead the Defense Department when Leon Panetta departs also remains unresolved, and now questions are being raised about the presumed front-runner for that post.
On Wednesday the Washington Post, which usually supports Obama on its editorial page, ran an editorial opposing the yet-to-be announced nomination of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel to replace Panetta.
The editorial called Hagel “isolated in his views about Iran during his time in the Senate. He repeatedly voted against sanctions, opposing even those aimed at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which at the time was orchestrating devastating bomb attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. Mr. Hagel argued that direct negotiations, rather than sanctions, were the best means to alter Iran’s behavior.”
An independent review of the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya shows "systemic failures" at the State Department. The BBC's Katty Kay and Random House Jon Meacham join a conversation on the report and on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The editorial also noted that “Obama has said that his policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and that containment is not an option. Mr. Hagel has taken a different view, writing in a 2008 book that ‘the genie of nuclear weapons is already out of the bottle, no matter what Iran does.’ ”
It added that if Obama decides to use military force to try to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal, it would be doubtful whether Hagel would be “ready to support and effectively implement such a decision” if he were defense secretary.
Earlier, Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens assailed Hagel for saying "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here (on Capitol Hill)." Stephens said that and other remarks by Hagel about Israel were “insipid and insinuating” and cast a slur on Jewish-Americans.
Some Republican senators also expressed skepticism about Hagel becoming defense secretary but since his nomination has yet to be announced, it’s not clear whether the Senate would confirm him.