If Hillary Clinton runs for president, the furor over the Benghazi attack will not ruin her chances of winning, 90 percent of National Journal's National Security Insiders said.
The former secretary of State is already girding against jabs from Republicans over her handling of the 2012 attack in Libya, insisting that the investigations are "even more of a reason to run" for president.
"Worst-case scenario, [Benghazi] becomes a nagging open wound," one Insider said, "but not big enough to derail her."
Multiple investigations of the attack, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, found "no conspiracy to hide facts from the American people," one Insider said, "and no reason to believe the attack could have been thwarted once it emerged."
Republicans have begun to downplay Obamacare as a key element in their quiver of issues for the 2016 election, the Insider continued, "and they will eventually do the same with Benghazi. Its political salience is diminishing."
What's more, another Insider notes, Clinton "has already accepted her share of responsibility in speeches and her book. Beyond that, the GOP may continue to move right with the loss of Eric Cantor, placing Clinton in an even stronger position [on] national security issues versus a current potential GOP presidential candidate."
A slim 10 percent minority of Insiders said the Benghazi scandal will quash Clinton's chances if she decides to run. "An examination of her inattention to the business of administering the Department of State will be damaging," one said.
Separately, the release of five Taliban detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will have no impact on the threat of terrorism against the U.S., 60 percent of the pool of national security experts said. "We flatter and embolden the notorious five by believing they alone can sway the battle so significantly," one Insider said. "They are 15 years older and may influence Taliban policies, but do so at own personal risk. The threat will exist with or without them involved."
"Those old guys are so last-decade," another Insider said. "The U.S. faces new terrorism threats quite apart from the Pushtun Taliban."
A vocal 39 percent minority said the swap will increase the threat of terrorism. "The Obama prisoner deal is a huge strategic win for the Taliban and a morale-builder for radical Islamic terrorists, and at a tactical level returns dangerous Taliban leaders to the battlefield," one Insider said.
A recent CBS News poll found that 49 percent of Americans thought the exchange would increase the threat of terrorism against the U.S. Forty percent, that poll found, said the swap would have no effect.
1. If Hillary Clinton runs for president, will the furor over the Benghazi attack ruin her chances of winning?
- No - 90%
- Yes - 10%
"She is a target-rich environment, with a long career of service. Anything could hurt, and it will all surely be resurrected by her opponent. Hope she has good armor."
"But it will be an impediment, especially if she keeps up her smiling, 'Shit happens,' 'I didn't read the cable line' of response."
"Benghazi is a made-up story, fabricated for the Beltway. It has some resonance outside the city, but it's not a game-changer."
"Republicans' attempt to taint Clinton with failure of leadership may bolster their base, but it will fall upon deaf ears of Clinton faithful. The outcome of the election will rest on myriad other issues."
"The people who care the most about Benghazi wouldn't be voting for a Democrat anyway."
"Benghazi is just one in a number of issues she will have to face. I don't [see] this is a make or break issue."
"It will hurt her, but it will not be decisive. As her recent slipup regarding her needing to charge huge amounts of money for speeches to pay for multiple mortgages indicates, there will be other issues that will be of greater relevance to most Americans that will affect her prospects."
"The manufactured furor will have gone on so long that it will be more of a turnoff for voters than anything in Clinton's record."
"Ruin, no. Hurt, YES!"
"Although the GOP will try to exploit Benghazi, Clinton has already accepted her share of responsibility in speeches and her book. Beyond that, the GOP may continue to move right with the loss of Eric Cantor, placing Clinton in an even stronger position [on] national security issues versus current potential GOP presidential candidate."
"Never underestimate the ability of the Clinton team to rationalize away scandals."
"She will win, or lose, for much larger reasons. Most of the country accepts that 'sh*t happens' "
"Most Benghazi obsessives weren't going to support her even had it never happened. Swing voters with some degree of objectivity can see through the invented hysteria. Therefore, it will have little effect."
"No, it will not ruin it, but unless she creates a better narrative, she will be dogged by it all along. She needs to answer two questions: 1) What does she means that she takes responsibility for it? How? She seems to be laying the blame on underlings; 2) How did she, as secretary, engage with the State Department's security officers in the days, weeks, and months prior to September 11 to learn about what the threat to our most vulnerable diplomatic posts were, and what did she do, if anything, to address those concerns?"
"The only Americans tuned into Benghazi are already in the base of the Republican Party."
"The Republican obsession with Benghazi is too transparently a political attack. The base may love it, but independents will not be persuaded."
"The election is a lifetime away in political time. We will look back and laugh at the idea of Benghazi being a significant issue. Even if she is still in the running."
"Hillary's run for the presidency will be effected ultimately by her lack of people skills vice issues like Benghazi. In the final analysis, it goes to her competence as a leader, and that is a mixed bag at best. In the rest of the country, you elect someone based on how you're doing economically and whether they like you."
"Cynically speaking, the broader media will downplay her connection to Benghazi in order to promote the 'historic' nature of her election. A sad commentary on the current administration that, sadly, is going to be repeated."
"Accounts of that tragic evening's events keep changing, as well as descriptions of her oversight role regarding security before and after the attack on the U.S. facilities in Benghazi."
"Benghazi will have a marginally negative effect on Hillary's presidential run: during the primary, as she faces a threat to her left and Benghazi underscores her support of military force (Libya, Iraq, Osama bin Laden, etc.); and, in the general, as she dodges incoming on the administration political spin and cover-up ... mistakes not made by George Shultz nor Madeleine Albright in similar tragic events."
2. Will the exchange of five Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl impact the threat of terrorism against the U.S.?
- No impact on the threat - 61%
- Increase the threat - 39%
- Decrease the threat - 0%
"No great impact. There are plenty of terrorists around; a few more won't matter; and mostly they are aiming to tussle with the U.S. in the region, as the ISIS would love to do."
"The trade will persuade some terrorists and adversaries that hostages pull emotional strings in America and thus have tradable value. Reagan had an imprudent soft heart for the half-dozen American hostages in Lebanon, and this helped lead to unwise decision-making in the Iran-Contra affair. Foreign evildoers will now wonder whether Obama, too, has a soft heart that they can manipulate through hostage-taking."
"The Afghan Taliban are an insurgent movement. Most of them are removed from international terrorism, post-2001. At the very top, there are links between Al-Qaida and Taliban, but not at the level of these five."
"They are likely to be active in the fight over the future of Afghanistan, but we will no longer be at war there."
"Terrorists have always wanted U.S. prisoners."
"These fellows are political. They will be major figures in the emerging Taliban government in Afghanistan after the U.S. finishes its withdrawal."
"The threat is significant today. There is no way this decreases the threat. It is another sign of American weakness and vulnerability. But our enemies already knew that, so it doesn't make a bad situation worse."
"The Taliban will take advantage of the U.S. departure, but its focus will be on insurgency, not terrorism."
"It was a battlefield exchange of prisoners, not the freeing of convicted terrorists to release a hostage."
"CNN reports that Bush-Cheney released 171 Guantanamo detainees who returned to the fight (including Mahsud) had much bigger impact than this. Will be interesting to see if politically challenged congressional Democrats can make that point."
"This was a legitimate prisoner swap that will have zero impact on the terrorist threat to the United States."
"While the release was appalling and clearly not well thought out, it is simply a single event in a long history that vindicates the Islamic extremist view of the West as weak."
"The threat is incredibly small, and this won't tick it up (or down) at all."
Increase the threat
"It will encourage terrorists around the world to kidnap Americans, as now it has been prove that the U.S. will negotiate and make concessions for their release."
"There is no way it would diminish the threat. It incentivizes the taking of U.S. service members, and while the aims of the administration are understandable, they have continued their track record of 1) a lack of strategic context that can be articulated before or after the fact; 2) a lack of a working relationship with Congress; 3) a naivete regarding the reaction to decisions that impeaches any semblance of political acumen; and 4) an inability to recapture the debate and lead the discussion after the event—witness Susan Rice's redeployment on Sunday morning. Not quick learners."
"Israeli prisoner releases in exchange for kidnapped soldiers or civilians have simply encouraged Hamas and Hezbollah to attempt more kidnappings. The same could happen to Americans."
"Will likely trigger copycats, increasing the risk of kidnappings of Americans overseas."
"It already has. People in Afghanistan are already changing theirs minds about who is the strong horse."
"It's pretty obvious to the unlettered that seizure of an American, especially in the military, can be used to create a drumbeat for release. If the terrorits choose someone who can be made to appear as a 'hero' (a wide definition in the U.S.), then it will be easier still to do this. Bad precedent."
"It may increase the threat a bit in that it does incentivize terrorists to capture Americans. But that was the point—to demonstrate that the U.S. would rather see Americans abroad returned alive not dead."
"Not from the Taliban per se but from groups that will see the value, in that U.S. hostages can be used to negotiate demands."
"There is no doubt that this will embolden jihadist groups."
National Journal's National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts. They include: Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Michael Allen, Thad Allen, Graham Allison, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Marion Blakey, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Mark Brunner, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Lorne Craner, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Janine Davidson, Daniel Drezner, Mackenzie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Todd Harrison, John Hamre, Jim Harper, Marty Hauser, Michael Hayden, Michael Herson, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Linda Hudson, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Michael Leiter, James Lindsay, Justin Logan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ronald Marks, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Michael Morell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Larry Prior, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Frank Ruggiero, Gary Samore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Suzanne Spaulding, James Stavridis, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Richard Wilhelm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Zakheim, and Juan Zarate.
This article appears in the June 17, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.