After a months-long wait that featured scheduling challenges, investigative delays, ministerial concussions, and the small matter of a presidential election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally came to Congress to testify about what happened in Benghazi. And what did she have to say?
“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided to go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?”
That was Mrs. Clinton’s response to a line of questioning — the first of many, none to much avail — about why it took so long for the administration to conclude, as the rest of the world already had, that the September 11 murder of four Americans at the American station in Benghazi was the result of a highly coordinated and deliberate act of terrorism, and not the spontaneous enthusiasms of a Muslim populace stirred to rage by an amateurish and little-noticed YouTube video.
Indifference was just one of the poses Secretary Clinton struck with respect to the causes and consequences of Benghazi. Joining it, at turns, were strained revisionism and professed ignorance. Clinton repeatedly emphasized before both House and Senate panels that she had, on September 12, called what happened in Benghazi “an attack by heavily armed militants,” and that the president had that same day referred to “acts of terror” in the same breath as Benghazi. To hedge against the plain truth that various members of the administration nevertheless continued to imply a spontaneous nexus between the video and the murders for weeks after the attack, Clinton emphasized that she “wasn’t involved in the talking-points process” that armed Susan Rice and others with their bogus dodges.
Deflection was also Mrs. Clinton’s preferred tack in explaining why American diplomats were not supplied with adequate security before the attack, or efficacious relief in the hours immediately after it, despite a series of requests and warnings about escalating violence targeted at Western interests in the city. Clinton, with an assist from the panels’ uniformly obsequious Democrats, averred that she couldn’t possibly read all of the million-plus cables that come over the State Department’s transom, and that in any event congressional cuts to diplomatic security were really to blame.
But the pertinent cables were not about passport services at our embassy in Paris, or the quality of cafeteria food at our consulate in Halifax. They had to do instead with a growing Islamist threat to American interests in a city on the front line of a war into which this administration purposefully intervened. Surely these warranted attention from the top. And complaints about budget cuts ignore the fact that existing resources were removed from Libya in the months before the attack, and in any event the diplomatic-security budget must be weighed against the other initiatives the administration and the State Department haveseen fit to fund (such as the billion-plus dollars in State’s budget designated for a global-warming initiative, a priority that, as Republican Florida representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen pointed out, should probably rank somewhat lower than basic security).
This tedious waltz between culpability and blamelessness permeated the entire affair. Mrs. Clinton said she is ultimately responsible for Libya but that none of the particular failures manifested there were her fault. She claimed that heads have rolled at the State Department, but the three individuals who were removed from their posts remain on paid administrative leave. She assured Congress that the State Department was acting on umpteen recommendations of a review board, but maintained, broadly, that the system worked.
The spectacle left the American people no better informed about September 11, 2012, than they were in the weeks immediately following it, when a few dogged reporters and a handful of legislators started to piece together what facts were available. And Mrs. Clinton failed to markedly improve on the lame excuses offered by the administration during that time.
When one congressman asked Clinton, in amazement, why she was not interviewed by the independent board in their review of the attack and the department’s response to it, the secretary suggested it was because the board did not find her “relevant” to the investigation and thought she “did not have information that could help” it. Judging by her performance today, it sounds as if they were right.