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Opinion

Blaming the video for Benghazi highlights Hillary Clinton's weak defense of American values

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Barack Obama,Hillary Clinton,Benghazi,Islamic Jihad,First Amendment,Charles Hoskinson

Hillary Clinton just gave Republicans a gift on Benghazi -- if they're willing to rethink their approach to investigating the scandal.

Politico on Friday published exclusive excerpts of the chapter from the former secretary of state's upcoming book, "Hard Choices," dealing with the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The leak came amid news that Clinton has hired former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor ("Dude, this was like two years ago") to help with messaging.

Meanwhile, longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines met Friday with a group of Democratic political operatives, Clinton supporters and foreign policy professionals to coordinate messaging on the attacks, the Washington Post reported.

Clinton will need the help. Based on the excerpts from the leaked chapter published in Politico, she risks revisiting the biggest public diplomacy mistake of her career.

It's all about the video -- specifically, a promotional trailer for a planned film called "The Innocence of Muslims," which Islamist extremists fished from YouTube obscurity and used to fire up mobs across the Middle East and South Asia to facilitate planned terrorist attacks against U.S. interests.

By repeating -- and defending -- the now-debunked claim that the video was to blame for the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Clinton risks a renewed focus on the shameful manner in which she and President Obama handled the Benghazi disaster.

The war against Islamist extremism is as much a war of ideas as it is one of special operations raids and drone strikes, and in this case the administration surrendered unconditionally.

After the attacks, Clinton and Obama fiercely condemned the video multiple times, and even spent $70,000 on television ads in Pakistan condemning it.

The maker of the video, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was arrested on a probation violation and jailed for a year. A pastor of a small church in rural Florida got a phone call from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urging him to withdraw his support for the film.

But what they didn't do was make clear why the First Amendment protections of religious freedom -- including freedom from religion -- and free speech are so important to Americans.

Their vague lip service to the values on which those freedoms are based never even came close to explaining why Americans are willing to tolerate harsh, offensive, even deliberately deceptive criticism of ideas -- and why people in the Islamic world should do the same.

The Islamist extremists in al Qaeda, Ansar al-Shariah, Hamas, Hezbollah and other groups targeting U.S. interests around the world are religious supremacists who believe they alone possess the truth and have no tolerance for disagreement.

Whatever real rage was generated by "The Innocence of Muslims" came from the perception that their one true faith deserved special protection from insult -- and no laws made by man could be allowed to stand in the way.

Next time you wonder why there's hardly any tolerance in Muslim-majority countries for religious differences, here's your answer:

By not vigorously and explicitly defending freedom of religion, speech and conscience, Clinton, like Obama and other officials in his administration, surrendered those values to the anger of the mob -- and in the process sent a clear signal to billions of people around the world that the extremists' ideas trumped America's.

Then, by ordering Nakoula's arrest, the Justice Department made the awful optics even worse -- how many people outside the United States really understood that the arrest was for a probation violation and not for the video itself? A handful?

My Washington Examiner colleague Tim Carney has already detailed how the real Benghazi scandal was Obama's decision to wage an unnecessary war -- without congressional approval -- in such a detached manner that post-Qadhafi Libya became a chaotic, violent haven for Islamist extremists and weapons which had been locked up in his arsenals were looted to fuel bush wars across northern Africa.

This is even bigger than that. It's bigger than the allegations of lies House Republicans are determined to dig up in their select committee probe of the attacks.

It's about a person who may run for president who's willing to set aside America's most basic values to placate America's most determined enemies.

It's a campaign message gift-wrapped for Republicans in 2016. All they have to do is open it.

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