Here’s what you want to know from Hillary Rodham Clinton's hearing Wednesday on Benghazi in the Senate and House.
1) Republicans were generally respectful and most praised her service. At times you wouldn’t have known the party affiliation of the member who was speaking—especially when it came to the courtly ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. At other times, like when Rep Jeff Duncan of South Carolina called Benghazi a "death trap" and accused her of "malpractice"...welll...not so much.
2) That said, there were lots of questions about Benghazi and the remarks of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice after the attack. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blew a gasket, saying Clinton’s answers on Benghazi were unacceptable. Clinton said, “We just have a disagreement.”
3) Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said had he been president (!) he would have fired Clinton for not reading enough of the cable traffic between State Department officials in Libya and Washington. “Not to know of these requests for security cost these people their lives.... I don’t suspect your motives, but it was a failure of leadership; there is culpability to the worst tragedy since 9/11.” Clinton pointed to the Accountability Review Board, which was headed by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, which said that the mistakes were made far below Clinton’s level.
4) Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was subdued. The wunderkind spoke in a hesitant tone about some of the details around the attack, specifically some meetings on Libyan security that may or may not have been held. Clinton promised to get him a list on what was being done to address the Accountability Review Board’s questions. If this is the 2016 presidential matchup, it’s not going to be close.
5) Clinton’s basic pitch: State made mistakes and it was implementing the recommendations of a high-profile Accountability Review Board. Moreover, she wants to work with Congress for more funding for State Department security around the world.
6) Clinton and Sen. Ron Johnson, the tea-party Republican from Wisconsin, got into a bit of a scuffle as he kept asking questions about what the administration knew and when did it know it. Exasperated, Clinton said: “The fact is, we have four dead Americans. What difference at this point does it make?”
7) It was repeatedly discussed that Marine guards who are assigned to embassies are there to protect classified documents and not personnel. There was some suggestion from both Republicans and Democrats that that needed to change.
8) Chris Stevens wanted to be there. In his opening statement, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the acting chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Ambassador Stevens wanted the special mission to be in Benghazi because it was the cradle of the Libyan revolution and essential for U.S. diplomacy.
9) Amusing asides: McCain began by saying that Clinton was “combative as ever” Rep. Greg Meeks lavished praise on Clinton as did many Democrats who seemed to outdo each other. He hailed the Secretary's daughter. Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio, a Republican, brought the funny when he said, "We wish you well in your future endeavors ... mostly."
But here is what you really need to know:
10) Clinton painted a very worrisome picture of the terrorist situation in Africa. Discussing the Islamist rebels in Mali, she sounded an alarm. Just because al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has never attacked the United States doesn't mean there's no threat developing in the Sahara desert, she maintained ominously: "Before 2001, we hadn't been attacked before the war of 1812 and Pearl Harbor," she said.
"If you look at the topography of northern Mali, it's not a desert, it's caves ... sounds reminiscent."
She noted that while what she called “core al-Qaida” in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been significantly degraded, “affiliates and wannabes” were very much alive in Africa and they have plans to target Western interests, as they did in Algeria this month, and to overthrow governments in the region—even Islamist governments established since the Arab Spring.
While Clinton offered examples where the U.S. has been able to turn around a deteriorating security situation—most notably Somalia, where we recently restored diplomatic relations, and Colombia, where the narco terror wars are more muted—none of it was terribly reassuring. In Somalia, she noted that we’d played a vital role. “We trained the Djiboutis, we trained the Burundis,” she said of the regional forces that helped restore some semblance of stability to Somalia. But Clinton noted that several months after the attacks on Benghazi, a "Pandora’s Box" of weapons had been opened up in the region.
Amid all the fond farewells to Clinton, amid all the praise for a former Senate colleague, it was a worrisome picture for incoming Secretary of State John Kerry and the rest of us.