Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence

In her testimony on the Benghazi debacle, Hillary Clinton said:

“I AM the Secretary of State, and the ARB (Accountability Review Board)  made it very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined, sat at the level of Assistant Secretary and below.”

And to Rep. Michael McCaul, who wanted to know why she had not seen Christopher Stevens’ disturbing cables on the lack of security, she responded:

“1.4 million cables come to us each year, all of them addressed to me.”

These responses clearly demonstrate that Hillary Clinton has no idea at all of what executive management is all about. An executive is not only or even primarily responsible for his or her own individual tasks—he or she is responsible for the work of the people in the organization, and for organizing that work properly and effectively.

These responsibilities include establishing an information and decision-flow architecture…including clear assignment of responsibilities…to ensure that the right things are seen and acted upon by the right people at the right time. Failure to do this..and to maintain and tune the system over time…will predictably result in catastrophes.

Elliott Abrams:

There had been three and half years to set up a system, to let the career officers of the Secretariat and the Operations Center know what she wants, and to have her personal staff figure it out too.

That is to say, if she did not see the Benghazi cables in a timely fashion, if she did not see Chris Stephens’s cables describing the deterioration of security, and if she did not see his requests for more security, this was a huge management failure on her part. It is a poor excuse to say, “Gee, the Department gets lots of cables” — and perhaps even worse then to hide behind an Accountability Review Board that pins responsibility on assistant secretaries and no higher.

Having worked as an assistant secretary of state and a deputy national-security adviser, I can report that even in those posts one is entirely swamped by cable traffic and needs a system to cope with it — to be sure that the really important ones get through. From all the available evidence, Hillary Clinton failed to establish such a system for herself, and that management failure is a far more important fact about her tenure than being the third woman to hold the post or having flown more miles than Condoleezza Rice.


Hillary Clinton is by her own words convicted of a failure to understand and perform the basics of her job…and she is so clueless about what she should have been doing that she doesn’t even grasp the seriousness of what she has so cavalierly and angrily admitted.

And those people making statements about what a wonderful Secretary of State Ms Clinton has been…a group that includes President Barack Obama…have also in effect admitted that they also do not understand the basics of executive management.

Note also that these are the same people who want to extend government control into all aspects of American life, including but not limited to the economy.

Imagine if someone like Hillary Clinton was micromanaging America’s food distribution or energy industry. Think about how many emails, letters, purchase orders, invoices, and other kinds of messages are involved in getting food from the farm to the railroad, from the railroad to the processing plant, from the processing plant to the warehouse and finally to the shelves on the store. Or think about how many messages and decisions are involved in getting the natural gas or coal out of the ground and to the power plant and then delivering the electricity to your house. The numbers dwarf the  “1.4 million cables” with which Ms Clinton has confessed herself unable to cope.

Under the above scenario we would all be hungry, cold, and in the dark very soon. And in the Congressional hearings, the Hillary-equivalent would assert that the responsibility really lay at the level of the assistant-something-or-other, and that “we get 150 million purchase orders and shipping notifications and so on every month”…ie, that the Hillary-equivalent who was supposedly in charge of it all was not to blame.

And the people selected by this administration for positions of power tend very much toward the Hillary Clinton mold: highly credentialed, lacking in practical experience, extremely arrogant, and with a certain facile verbal ability: constructing verbal formulations along the approved patterns, saying things that sound good until they are challenged or analyzed too closely.

The empowerment of such people with government authority, together with the concurrent growth in the reach of that authority, ensures failures, of greater or lesser scale, in every aspect of American life that they touch.



21 thoughts on “Excusing Failure by Pleading Incompetence”

  1. The truly sad thing is no one on that committee really and truly ripped her a well- deserved new one. Her responses revealed her ignorance, and the ignorance of her supposed overseers. It would not have been an inappropriate response for some member of the panel to have been on his feet, screaming at the top of his lungs that Hillary was a disgrace.
    As with Jonathon’s post yesterday on dirty jobs made clear, people like Hillary think they know all.

  2. Some relevant words from Antoine de St-Exupery:

    “A chief is a man who takes responsibility. He does not say ‘my men were defeated’; he says “I was defeated.'”

    (Flight to Arras)

  3. You guys really don’t get it, do you. Every offical statement and act of the Obama administration is correct, by definition, and therefore beyond question. Anything bad that happens on their watch is not their fault and has nothing to do with the policies they have put in place. There will occasionally be glitches of implementation, of course, but all serious problems we continue to face are the lingering effects of past Republican administrations (particularly Reagan and BushII), past Republican-controlled Congresses, and the Likudniks in Israel and their evangelical and neocon well-wishers in the US. To suggest otherwise is to waste everyone’s time with irrelevancies. Those who persist put themselves outside the circle of rational, civilized discourse. You have been warned.

  4. Indeed. Once that “1.4 million cables” line got trotted out I would have dug into her if I were on that committee. If her office is incapable of prioritizing cables or handling the traffic necessary to the job then that is gross incompetence, worse even than an isolated failure to take action in one specific instance.

    Even worse, Clinton abdicated all responsibility of her job when she used the “what difference does it make” line. What difference does it make whether or not the deaths of our ambassador and staff were due to the action of an enemy our country has effectively been at war with for 2 decades and has fought all around the globe? That sounds like the goddamned job description of the State Department to me, to keep track of geopolitical developments, especially as they relate to attacks on the US, and especially as they relate to the sworn enemies of the US. One does not expect the Secretary of State to be snoozing in a recliner all day long with a sign on the door that says “gone fishin'” and under that “shit happens, what difference does it make?”

  5. }}} a group that includes President Barack Obama…have also in effect admitted that they also do not understand the basics of executive management.

    Considering that he ignored the advice — at least TWICE in a ROW — of his protocol advisors with regards to England, *AND* for at least two or three other foreign visits, is this surprised?

    This was clear at the start — he HAD no management experience.

    His only “work” experience was as a rabble rouser.

  6. }}} … is this surprised?


    “… is this surprising?”

  7. IGB…”This was clear at the start — he HAD no management experience.”

    Both Obama and his leading supporters viewed management as a trivial skill, compared with whatever knowledge/wisdom they thought they had garnered from their educations.

  8. In the good old days before the telgraph was invented – diplomatic correspondence was carried in a pouch by a courier usually on horesback. We have the collected despatches of Sebastian Giustinian, the Venetian ambassador to Henry VIII (1515-1519).

    At that time each embassy had a large number of soldiers who protected the ambassador. Giustinian reports that ambassadors would use their soldiers to attack each other, especially if they represented countries that were at war. The ambassador was treated by Henry VIII as though he were the prince he represented; an attack by Henry VIII or any Englishman on the ambassador would be treated as an act of war. Ambassadors had the right of self defence and any limit on this right was an act of war.

    Of course, ambassadors from small countries would tollerate bad behavior by Henry VIII because they did not want war.

    There is no such thing as International Law because the maker of the law has not the power to enforce international law. There may be “laws” but there is no law if there is no one to enforce it.

    Hillary’s testimony means that the US will not protect its own embassies unless the ambassador is a major political donor. The US is no longer the world’s police man. Absent the policeman, international law no longer exists.

  9. These responsibilities include establishing an information and decision-flow architecture

    Oh, let’s cut her some slack, ok? Nobody seriously thinks she had the slightest qualification or experience in this arena, so how in the world could she carry out those duties?

  10. Hillary is, for all her faults, very smart in a narrow, lawyerly sense. She may have terrible political instincts and be an egocentric tyrant, but Hillary is as mean as a snake shouldn’t be underestimated. The information-action system at State worked exactly as intended – decisions could flow from her office without leaving a paper trail of accountability to her personally except when it was absolutely required.

    She ran her husband’s White House in much the same way after being burned early on by the press for being too identifiable as a key decision maker

  11. The Peter Principle, borne out yet again – in a hierarchical structure, one is promoted to the level of one’s incompetence. Though of course, in politics, I think you can get promoted beyond the level of your incompetence given whom is doing the promoting (backscratchers) or electing (voters).

  12. DearieMe…”Her political career, such as it is, is based solely on who her husband is. Very Third World.”

    I think her Wellesley and Yale Law credentials have also been important in her anointment.

  13. Imagine if someone like Hillary Clinton was micromanaging America’s food distribution or energy industry.

    Or medical care! Let’s look at the bright side.

  14. @David Foster,

    You say that Hillary’s academic credentials “have also been important in her annointment.” I doubt this. Granted, she’s a smart woman, but, having married Bill Clinton, she didn’t need much intellect to have a political career. For example, the reputedly dim-witted Patty Murray is now one of the top ranking members of the Democratic senate hierarchy. As far as I know, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is not particularly bright; her entire political career seems to be based on having been married to her late husband, who was governor of the state.

    Hillary does not appear to have any particular aptitude for national politics; had she not married Bill, she would now probably be a law professor, a partner in a white-shoe law firm, a Justice Dept official, or somewhere else in the legal/academic/government/corporate establishment. She would not be one of a handful of people talked about as a possible next president of the United States.

  15. Djf…”had she not married Bill, she would now probably be a law professor, a partner in a white-shoe law firm, a Justice Dept official, or somewhere else in the legal/academic/government/corporate establishment. She would not be one of a handful of people talked about as a possible next president of the United States.”

    Probably true. But if she’d gotten her law degree from South Arkansas State (assuming that there even IS such an institution) and STILL married Bill, I doubt she’d have ever been taken seriously as a Presidential candidate or nominated to sit in George Marshall’s chair at the State Department.

    One of the main factors in all the rage and snideness directed at Sarah Palin is her lack of “elite” educational credentials.

  16. @David Foster,

    Well, I don’t think lack of elite academic credentials have hampered Senator Murray (a teaching degree from Washington State) or Senator McCaskill (BA and JD from U of Mo). Or Governor Andrew Cuomo – another politician talked about as a possible future president – who, like his much more impressive father, attended a non-elite law school (Albany).

    Joe Biden also lacks impressive academic credentials, but he at least does not owe his prominence to family connections or to being a member of a favored gender or ethnic group.

  17. Some testimony further underscoring the irresponsible uncaring incompetence of both Obama and Clinton in the Benghazi affair.

    These people will not even put themselves out when an Ambassador is being murdered. How can anyone be so naive as to believe they care about citizens in general?

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