Mrs. Clinton made the comments shortly after she arrived in Lima, Peru, for a diplomatic visit, and they appeared to be an effort to inoculate President Obama from criticism for any security lapses in Libya as he prepared for Tuesday’s debate with Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.
In a speech on Friday, Mrs. Clinton argued for continued American engagement in the volatile regions of the Middle East. She said it was the State Department’s responsibility to make sure that diplomats had the resources to carry out their duties abroad. But she stopped short then of taking responsibility for the events in Benghazi that led to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Over the past week there has been an escalating debate over the security measures that the Obama administration established for the American Embassy in Tripoli and its diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
In a hearing last week, the embassy’s former security officer contended that the State Department had rejected his requests to extend security arrangements that were in place at the time.
Republican lawmakers have sought to focus on the White House’s role. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. sought to blunt that criticism during his debate with Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, by asserting that he had not been informed of security requests from the field.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in an interview on Monday that he had sent two letters to the administration. One asked leaders of Mr. Obama’s national security team if they had informed the president of attacks against the Benghazi compound carried out in April and June and, if so, what action they had recommended. He said he had sent a separate letter to the president asking if he had been informed of those attacks and, if so, what actions he had taken.
“If he was informed, it is nobody’s responsibility other than the commander in chief to take corrective action,” Mr. Graham added, using the sort of arguments that Mr. Romney is expected to make on Tuesday.
In the CNN interview, Mrs. Clinton sought to explain why the administration had asserted that the attack in Benghazi was preceded by a demonstration over an anti-Islamic video, but later reported that there appeared to have been no such protest.
She said there is often confusion after such an attack. The State Department was involved in an “intense, long ordeal” to find out what had occurred, Mrs. Clinton said. She said her goal was to ensure that such attacks did not happen again.
“We can’t not engage,” she said. “We cannot retreat.”
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