Hillary Clinton and Benghazi

I don’t usually sit and watch the news all day, but I did yesterday.  They had this new reality show, and boy, was it fun.  It was called Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee: completely riveting.

Yes, the Benghazi hearings continued yesterday, and finally they had the Secretary of State in their sights. She’s SecState for just a few more days, until John Kerry is confirmed as her replacement.  She’s getting older, Hillary, and a bit more crotchety.  She just had surgery for a blood clot, and I wondered if she might seem a little under the weather. Maybe come across a bit feeble or something. Hah.

Those hearings are really sort of weird.  The Senators take turns by party affiliation to ask questions, which means she’d get these very tough questions from one guy, and then the next questioner would be a Democrat, and the question would be a creampuff, preceded by four minutes of fulsome praise.  Very strange: Rand Paul going “If I were President, I would have fired you!” followed by, next questioner, “I am honored today to breathe the same air that you’re breathing, to share space on this planet with you, the finest Secretary of State in our nation’s history.”

The main issue in Benghazi is embassy (or in this case, a mission) security, and Hillary Clinton kept tossing that back in the Senators’ faces.  Embassy security is provided by the Diplomatic Security Service, (supplementing security offered by the host country), and their funding keeps getting cut by Congress.  The DSS is also aided  by contingents of Marines, something called a Marine Embassy Guard, but the MEG budget is low enough that they can only be deployed to embassies with top secret documents to guard. Which Benghazi wasn’t important enough to have.

So Mrs. Clinton kept pointing out the many requests State has made for more funding for embassy security, while also pointing out the many many instances where embassy personnel have been threatened.  In Benghazi, we relied on pro-American Libyan militia guards, and their training proved completely inadequate when attacked by terrorists.  That’s the bottom line: Congress has never properly funded embassy security.  And Hillary kept hammering them for it.

I mean no disrespect, by the way, by calling her ‘Hillary.’  It’s old habit–you didn’t talk about her as ‘Clinton’ back when her husband was President, and so we tend to call her ‘Hillary’ still. She’s 65 now, and has recently had some health challenges.  If she decides to run for President again, she’ll be 69, though she would certainly be the front-runner.  So that was part of the subtext to her testimony–it’s likely her last official-capacity-public-appearance for awhile, but also maybe not the last we hear of her.  Some of the Senators had that in mind too: “we certainly hope you decide not to retire from public life, Madame Secretary.”

Anyway, she kept after ’em–‘why, Senator, did you vote against increasing embassy security, if that’s such a concern for you.’  In a way, it reminded me of the current debate over gun control.  Conservatives like to say that we don’t need more laws restricting gun access, but that first, we should enforce the many gun laws already on the books.  That’s a fair point–current laws are inadequately enforced, and maybe we could make a difference by beefing up enforcement.  Except that the federal entity responsible for gun enforcement is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and their budget is completely inadequate–they haven’t been able to hire new agents for thirty years.  Don’t even have a permanent director; can’t get one confirmed by Congress.

So we’re just starting to see it; the consequences of Beltway austerity.  The ruling paradigm now is all about deficit reduction–the debt is going to destroy our economy if spending is allowed to continue unchecked.  I think that’s the usual language.  But it isn’t true.  The economy is in a liquidity trap–high unemployment has led to a reduction in overall demand, which means businesses are reluctant to expand, which leads to higher unemployment.  The answer is more spending, not less–pulling money out of the economy is exactly the wrong thing to do. But beyond that, essential functions of government are going badly underfunded.  Embassy security is one such essential function.

So Hillary Clinton changed the narrative.  The Republicans on the Intelligence committee were primed for her testimony.  On the right, Benghazi is a rallying cry like no other.  I’ve called it the main infection vector for the Obama-hating bacillus.  The President’s role in Benghazi, man, that involved high crimes and misdemeanors–  impeachable offenses.  It was a Very Big Deal.  Except that darn pro-Obama lamestream media has refused to cover it.

I haven’t actually kept au courant with the latest Benghazi hysteria.  I do know that a major talking point has to do with Susan Rice, and her comments on various Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the Benghazi attacks.  In those interviews, Rice repeated the talking points given her by the ‘intelligence community,’ and said things that weren’t, as it happens, true–that the Benghazi attacks had something to do with the riots over that ridiculous Innocence of Muslims anti-Islamic video. Most of our embassies in North Africa and the Middle East did have to respond to riots caused by the video–Benghazi did not, but in the midst of a horrendously chaotic day, initial reports conflated what was happening in Egypt and Tunisia with what happened in Libya.

For some reason, though, Susan Rice’s talk show appearances are just infuriating to conservatives.  Clearly, she was part of some kind of cover-up.  The outrage on the right–especially as expressed by John McCain and Lindsay Graham–was sufficient to deny Rice the chance to become Secretary of State.  So Hillary’s testimony was widely anticipated.  Even her medical emergency, requiring surgery to remove a blood clot, was viewed skeptically–she was suffering from ‘Benghazi flu’, suggested Allen West.

Good law of politics: when attacked, change the narrative.  And Hillary’s a master politician.  She went after Republicans again and again.  And in the exchange that made the evening news, she took on Republican Senator Ron Johnson.  Check it out.

Ouch. As she said: “What difference did it make?”  Johnson goes on and on about how ‘one simple phone call could have ascertained that it wasn’t a protest,’ and her response is ‘so what?’  And deciding who won that exchange probably depends on your political leanings.  To me, though, Johnson’s faux outrage over how the American people got incorrect information for a few days is, well, unimpressive.

One thing we learned, obviously, is that Rand Paul thinks of himself as a plausible Presidential candidate.  Another is that John McCain is no more interested in giving up the Benghazi battle than Ahab was in quitting the search for that whale.  What I think, though, is Hillary won.  I think Benghazi is basically done as an issue.

Nor should it ever have been much of an issue.  Benghazi was a tragedy.  Security at that compound was clearly inadequate, and known to be inadequate.  Terrorists with Al Queda connections attacked, and killed four American patriots.  It was a confused and chaotic environment, and it took awhile to sort out what actually happened.  The incident has been investigated, a report has been issued.  Embassy security should be beefed up.  And that’s basically it.  It’s over.  It was never a particularly important issue, and it’s time to move on.  The Senators aren’t likely to want to tangle with Hillary Clinton again over it, and I think that means it’s going away.


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