We learned today from Secretary Clinton — “What difference, at this point, does it make?” — that the actual causation and circumstances of the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi are not so important — and by implication that the nation for days was given a false or at least incomplete explanation by its highest officials of a spontaneous, video-fueled demonstration rather than a pre-planned Islamist operation.
Two thoughts arise, aside from her own health issues (no doubt brought on by an admirable but grueling regimen of travel in often inhospitable places) that make such testimony understandably taxing and need to be taken into consideration. But that said, comparing big tragedies to smaller ones: Did it matter, for example, whether Hezbollah pre-planned the Marine barracks bombing or the Khobar Towers attacks, or the American deaths were just the results of angry youths who spontaneously coalesced to commit violence? Do such circumstances matter to the families of the deceased, to national-security officials responsible to prevent further occurrences, to a public that demands honesty and transparency from its officials?
Secretary Clinton did not mean to show indifference, but her rhetorical question was one of the low points in her long career, one that might pass without too much fanfare at the moment but will reverberate a lot in the future.
Yet today’s testimony in some sense does not matter, given that Ms. Clinton is probably going to run in 2016 for president, and has enjoyed a protective media veneer over her long career — shed only once in 2008 when opposing Barack Obama.
Although she has shown moments of teary emotion (cf. the 2008 campaign), had problems with recollections about past events (cf. under fire in Bosnia), and offered scenarios that seemed improbable (cf. subpoenaed documents mysteriously appearing belatedly in a White House anteroom), her testimony today will be seen, as the Washington Post described it, as “an uncharacteristic display of emotion for Clinton, who is usually collected and reserved in public.” Despite Hillarycare, Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, the cattle-futures mess, the circumstances surrounding the 2000 Clinton pardons, “suspension of disbelief,” etc., Ms. Clinton, for not fully explained reasons, remains mostly beyond audit and censure, a fact she has come to appreciate.