If press accounts are any indication, Hillary Clinton walked away from last week's highly anticipated House hearings on Benghazi like the Ramones walking away from Vince Lombardi High at the end of Rock and Roll High School. That is to say, totally triumphant and unscathed while hapless Republicans blew themselves up with their own dynamite. Again. For like the 1000th time. "Hillary Wins Again," goes a representative headline.
Of course, the elite press is largely in the tank for Hillary, especially now that super-savior Joe Biden isn't running and top dogs in the legacy media realize that Bernie Sanders isn't really a socialist (he just wants to tax people a lot more and give away more free shit that might make it tougher for them to pay for their kids to go to fancy private schools).
But there's a lot of truth to the idea that the former First Lady, senator, and Secretary of State came out looking pretty good. She got close but didn't have any great spazz-out moments or sound-bitable breakdowns (a la "what difference does it make?" from earlier hearings).
But it's also wrong to say that we learned nothing new, either. At the very least, as Anthony L. Fisher noted here last Thursday, we saw unimpeachable evidence that Clinton was bullshitting like a pro when she claimed that the YouTube video "Innocence of Muslims" had anything to do with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Here are State Department notes of a September 12, 2012 call between Secretary Clinton and Egyptian Prime Minister Kandil:
That's not a small thing to learn, especially after Clinton, President Obama, and then-United Nations Amb. Susan Rice all explicitly and repeatedly blamed Benghazi precisely on a spontaneous demonstration sparked by "Innocence of Muslims." Worse still, they all called for various sorts of limits on free speech so as not to offend Muslims around the globe whom, it turns out, weren't moved to violence by the vid in the first place.
And yet, for all that, even Hillary-loving liberals seem to want Clinton to get her comeuppance. Here's Maureen Dowd, writing in The New York Times:
It is not the terrain of [Rep. Trey] Gowdy's lame committee, but it is legitimate to examine Clinton's record in the Middle East.
As a senator, she made a political vote to let W. invade Iraq. As much homework as she did to get ready for the Libya committee, she chose not to do her homework on Iraq in 2002 — neglecting to read the sketchy National Intelligence Estimate. She didn't want to seem like a hippie flower girl flashing a peace sign after 9/11.
Then she urged President Obama to help topple Muammar el-Qaddafi without heeding the painful lesson of Iraq — that if America went into another nebulously defined mission, there would have to be a good plan to prevent the vacuum of power being filled by militant Islamic terrorists.
Since she was, as her aide Jake Sullivan put it, "the public face of the U.S. effort in Libya," one of the Furies, along with Samantha Power and Susan Rice, who had pushed for a military intervention on humanitarian grounds, Hillary needed to stay on top of it….
When you are the Valkyrie who engineers the intervention, you can't then say it is beneath you to pay attention to the ludicrously negligent security for your handpicked choice for ambassador in a lawless country full of assassinations and jihadist training camps.
In other words, forget about the specifics of Benghazi for a second. The real question is much larger and its answers speak poorly of Clinton, Obama, and U.S. foreign policy in Libya.
If instead of obsessively fixating on a tragic but ultimately second-order question—did Secretary Clinton blow the security detail at the U.S. consulate in a way that led to the first field death of an ambassador in more than three decades?—the Republicans had started discussing larger foreign-policy questions, we might actually be having a productive conversation about America's role in the world.
Dowd's insight in shared by former Rep. Ron Paul, who writes
I would call these Congressional hearings "too much, too late."…
Four years after the US-led overthrow of the Libyan government – which left the country a wasteland controlled by competing Islamist gangs and militias – the committee wants to know whether Hillary Clinton had enough guards at the facility in Benghazi on the night of the attack? The most important thing to look into about Libya is Hillary Clinton's e-mails or management style while Secretary of State?
Why no House Committee hearing before President Obama launched his war on Libya? Why no vote on whether to authorize the use of force? Why no hearing after the President violated the Constitution by sending the military into Libya with UN authorization rather than Congressional authorization? There are Constitutional tools available to Congress when a president takes the country to war without a declaration or authorization. At the time, President Obama claimed he did not need authorization from Congress because the US was not engaged in "hostilities." It didn't pass the laugh test, but Congress did next to nothing about it.
Paul notes that he and former Rep. Dennis Kucinich tried to get a vote invoking the War Powers Resolution regarding Obama's illegal authorization of force in Libya. It wasn't Hillary Clinton or any Democrat that scuttled that vote, of course. It was the outgoing Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner. And a ton of hawkish Republicans. When Clinton defended having a U.S. consulate in a "war zone" in Libya, Paul asks why Libya was still in flames a year after liberation?
Why was Libya still a war zone? Because the US intervention left Libya in far worse shape than it was under Gaddafi. We don't need to endorse Gaddafi to recognize that today's Libya, controlled by al-Qaeda and ISIS militias, is far worse off – and more of a threat to the US – than it was before the bombs started falling.
Of course, having an actual discussion about foreign policy doesn't quite raise partisan hackles the way that potential KOs against Hillary does, right? And what is the Republican policy on the sort of half-assed, unconstitutional military action supported by Clinton anyway? Obviously, the Party of Lincoln tends to be against that sort of thing when a Democrat is in the White House, but they also want to accused Obama of being so soft they had to vote more money to the Pentagon than he asked for.
So there are at least two revelations that came to light around the latest Benghazi hearings. First, absolute evidence that Clinton was dissembling when she and other people in the Obama administration insisted that the attack on Benghazi was anything other than a planned action. That we kinda-sorta knew but let's keep the record absolutely straight going forward. Second—and alas, this isn't really new or fresh—the United States, despite spending almost the entire 21st century fighting two major wars, a bunch of minor wars, and declaring global war on terrorism, isn't yet ready for a real discussion about the role we should be playing in the very world we are helping to engulf in flames.