TwentySixteen

Why Benghazi Should Keep Hillary Clinton Up At Night

For Democrats and GOP, shallow theater and naked partisanship make for good politics and lousy leadership.

Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks toward the dais as she settles into her seat on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015, prior to testifying before the House Benghazi Committee.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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Ron Fournier
Oct. 22, 2015, 3:01 p.m.

Is she a li­ar or a states­wo­man? For the vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans who long ago answered that ques­tion in their own minds, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton’s testi­mony on Benghazi changed noth­ing.

Re­pub­lic­ans won’t vote for the former sec­ret­ary of State, much less give her any cred­it for a mara­thon of emo­tion­al testi­mony in which Clin­ton took re­spons­ib­il­ity for the 2012 at­tacks that cost four Amer­ic­ans their lives.

Demo­crats won’t hold Benghazi against her, much less use her ac­tions as a crit­ic­al meas­ure of Clin­ton’s lead­er­ship. Should the pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion go to Ver­mont Sen. Bernie Sanders or an­oth­er Clin­ton rival, it will not be be­cause of her ad­ven­tur­ism in Libya, her de­part­ment’s fail­ure to se­cure the U.S. mis­sion in Benghazi, or any part she may have played in mis­lead­ing voters about the elec­tion-year as­saults.

If you don’t have a dog in the fight—if you’re among the grow­ing num­ber of in­de­pend­ent voters drift­ing away from the two parties—you prob­ably don’t care about the hear­ing. You know what you missed: shal­low theat­er, na­ked par­tis­an­ship, and in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized in­com­pet­ence.

Com­mit­tee chair­man Trey Gowdy, a Re­pub­lic­an from South Car­o­lina, set the tone with a trib­ute to Am­bas­sad­or Chris­toph­er Stevens and three oth­er men who died Sept. 11, 2012. “We know what they gave us. What do we give them?” Justice to their killers, he answered, and the truth.

The truth about why the U.S. in­ter­vened in Libya.

The truth about why Stevens’ re­quest for ad­di­tion­al se­cur­ity were re­jec­ted.

The truth about where and how U.S. mil­it­ary as­sets were de­ployed.

The truth about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s false ini­tial state­ments.

The truth about why Clin­ton with­held her email from in­vest­ig­at­ors.

“Why was the Amer­ic­an pub­lic giv­en such di­ver­gent ac­counts of what caused these at­tacks,” Gowdy asked, “and why is it so hard to get in­form­a­tion from the very gov­ern­ment these four men rep­res­en­ted, served and sac­ri­ficed for?”

In a few minutes, Gowdy framed the ar­gu­ment Re­pub­lic­ans will use against Clin­ton should she win the Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion: You can’t trust her.

Con­front­ing her on the email scan­dal, the chair­man chided, “Your emails are no less or no more im­port­ant than the emails of any­one else. It just took us a little longer to get them.”

If this was a theatre re­view (and it might as well be), I would cri­ti­cize Gowdy’s de­liv­ery. He lec­tured Clin­ton liked a par­ent does a child, for­get­ting that con­des­cend­ing be­ha­vi­or doesn’t play well in Pe­or­ia, es­pe­cially when a man is shar­ing the stage with a wo­man.

Clin­ton began with her own trib­ute to the four fallen Amer­ic­ans, per­son­al­iz­ing their stor­ies. “I took re­spons­ib­il­ity” for the deaths, she re­minded the com­mit­tee be­fore de­scrib­ing her ef­forts to be­latedly cor­rect long-known se­cur­ity is­sues at State De­part­ment fa­cil­it­ies abroad.

“Let’s be worthy of the trust the Amer­ic­an people have be­stowed upon us,” she con­cluded in her open­ing state­ment. “They ex­pect us to lead. To learn the right les­sons. To rise above par­tis­an­ship and to reach for states­man­ship. That’s what I tried to do every day as sec­ret­ary of State. And it’s what I hope we all strive for here today and in­to the fu­ture.”

That fu­ture won’t in­volve a second Pres­id­ent Clin­ton if the former sec­ret­ary of State can’t con­vince in­de­pend­ent voters she would be a less di­vis­ive fig­ure than they’ve seen since 1993. Clin­ton has a ma­jor re-brand­ing chal­lenge, and got to work on it Thursday, ur­ging the pan­el to “rise above par­tis­an­ship and reach for states­man­ship.”

Un­der ques­tion­ing from Gowdy, she spoke of the bur­den she car­ried out of Benghazi. “I would ima­gine I’ve thought more about what happened than all of you put to­geth­er,” she said. “I’ve lost more sleep than all of you put to­geth­er. I have been rack­ing my brain about what more could have been done, or should have been done.”

Her voice was soft and waver­ing as Clin­ton de­livered what polit­ic­al pun­dits call a heart­felt mo­ment. A theat­er crit­ic might call it a quietly power­ful per­form­ance.

One after an­oth­er, GOP com­mit­tee mem­bers ques­tioned Clin­ton about why her de­part­ment re­jec­ted Stevens’ re­peated re­quests for ad­di­tion­al se­cur­ity. She de­flec­ted the ques­tions by claim­ing the re­quests were handled by State De­part­ment se­cur­ity ex­perts. The pleas nev­er got to her.

One after an­oth­er, GOP com­mit­tee mem­bers ques­tioned Clin­ton about her ad­vocacy for the ill-fated in­ter­ven­tion in Libya. She de­flec­ted the ques­tions by say­ing Pres­id­ent Obama made the fi­nal de­cision. Not her.

One after an­oth­er, GOP com­mit­tee mem­bers ques­tioned her about the stream of emails she re­ceived from polit­ic­al trouble­maker Sid­ney Blu­menth­al, who passed along in­tel­li­gence on Libya and his neg­at­ive views about the Obama White House.

They kept ask­ing: Why could a former re­port­er lobby the sec­ret­ary of State dir­ectly while there was no evid­ence that Stevens had her private email ad­dress?

The am­bas­sad­or and his ur­gent se­cur­ity con­cerns went through oth­er chan­nels, Clin­ton replied.

No won­der she can’t sleep.

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