Clinton Uses 'Hard Choices' Book Tour To Steer Benghazi Message

Republicans have been using the 2012 attack in Libya against her. Analysts say while Hillary Clinton is talking about Benghazi, she is defining the issue herself well ahead of any political campaign.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hillary Clinton has begun her book tour. And, Renee, you had one of the first interviews with her on the program yesterday.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

I did indeed, and she did not, in that interview, reveal anything new about whether or not she'll run for the presidency in 2016. She is saying to everybody that she hasn't decided. Clinton is talking, though, about something that is sure to play a role in any political campaign she might launch in the future. Benghazi and the 2012 attack by militants on the American consulate that left, tragically, four Americans dead, including the U.S. ambassador.

GREENE: Yeah, and Republicans have long tried to make Benghazi a political liability for Hillary Clinton, but her comments this week show that she's looking to reframe any discussion of this controversy. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton has said if there's one day she'd like to have back - to do over - from her time as secretary of state, it would be the day of the attack in Benghazi. As part of her interview with NPR, she was asked about the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other Americans. Here's MORNING EDITION host Renee Montagne.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MONTAGNE: If you do choose to run for president, do you think of all the issues that you faced in all your time as secretary of state - do you think Benghazi will continue to haunt you?

GONYEA: Secretary Clinton began her answer this way.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I don't want to put it in any kind of political context. I am just very sad and personally grief-stricken about the losses there. I did know Chris Stevens. I actually sent him to Benghazi during the revolution.

GONYEA: As she continues, Clinton then puts a larger historical frame around these events. She looks back at earlier attacks against U.S. interests abroad during the 10 years of previous secretaries of state.

CLINTON: As I'm sure that Secretary of State Shultz felt about the loss of 258 Americans in Beirut in 1983, when a Marine barracks and our embassy were attacked, and I know how Madeleine Albright felt when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked and 12 Americans and hundreds of our Africans were lost - these are terrible situations. And we have to keep learning what can we do to protect Americans.

GONYEA: Professor Lynn Vavreck teaches political science and communication studies at UCLA. She says Hillary Clinton is working to establish one major thing when she talks about Benghazi this way - context.

LYNN VAVRECK: She says, I don't want to make this about politics. I'm not going to talk about Benghazi in terms of whether it's going to hurt me politically in the campaign - not going to talk about it that way. Here's how I am going to talk about it - this is why the job of secretary of state is hard. And all secretaries of state have faced these situations.

GONYEA: It's hard to look at Clinton's book tour and listen to her answer such questions and not think about how she and her advisers are studying how all of this will play out in the campaign trail. I asked Vavreck if this is part of the road testing of a message to see what works.

VAVRECK: I think it's probably less of a road test and more of an inoculation. It's a way to say, you know, it's a dangerous world. We're a big actor in that world, and American lives, in the spirit of foreign policy, are at stake every day and are lost, perhaps, more often than people realize.

GONYEA: And Vavreck notes Clinton is doing all of this in settings where she has the stage and she isn't limited to a sound bite or two. She can be expensive. And she's doing it well before any potential campaign announcement. That's not likely until early next year. There certainly could still be new developments in the Benghazi story, but right now Hillary Clinton is trying to tamp down the chances that the topic could get any real political traction. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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