Beng­hazi: Ad­van­tage Clin­ton

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

Who the blast is Sid­ney Blu­men­thal? Doubt­less many watch­ing Thurs­day’s House se­lect com­mit­tee hear­ing on Beng­hazi must have won­dered the same. This ob­vi­ously im­por­tant per­son’s name was men­tioned so many times, it was chal­leng­ing to re­mem­ber that Hil­lary Clin­ton, not he, was the one on trial, for lack of a more-ac­cu­rate word.

Short an­swer: Blu­men­thal is a long­time Clin­ton fam­ily friend and con­fi­dant go­ing back 30 years. Nick­named “Sid Vi­cious,” think of him as the Clin­tons’ Lee At­wa­ter.

Longer an­swer: Blu­men­thal is a former jour­nal­ist who has worked for the Clin­ton Foundation and for Me­dia Mat­ters, the watch­dog group that sav­ages jour­nal­ists who fail to fully grasp the Clin­tons’ piv­otal im­por­tance to hu­man­ity’s sal­va­tion.

More to the com­mit­tee’s in­ter­est, Blu­men­thal was busy with Libya-re­lated e-mails to then-Sec­re­tary of State Clin­ton at the same time he was ad­vis­ing busi­ness in­ter­ests in Libya. His cor­re­spon­dence seemed to be of mon­u­men­tal im­por­tance to com­mit­tee Chair Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who re­peat­edly ques­tioned Clin­ton about Blu­men­thal’s e-mails. Did she so­licit them? Did she read them? Why did she re­spond that he should con­tinue e-mail­ing her?

None of this was re­motely rel­e­vant to the al­leged pur­pose of the hear­ing — to find out once and for all what hap­pened be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter that ter­ri­ble night in Beng­hazi when four Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens, were killed. The real pur­pose was as ob­vi­ous as the shine on Gowdy’s nose — to dis­credit Clin­ton both as sec­re­tary of state and as a lead­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­date — and, if pos­si­ble, to make her head ex­plode. All the ques­tions about Blu­men­thal’s e-mails ul­ti­mately re­sulted in a rather wispy point: That he had Clin­ton’s per­sonal e-mail ad­dress and Stevens, also a friend, did not.

The only “news” to emerge from the hear­ing was e-mail cor­rob­o­ra­tion that Clin­ton knew im­me­di­ately af­ter the at­tacks that they were com­mit­ted by ter­ror­ists and not by street demon­stra­tors re­act­ing to a dumb video, as ini­tially and se­ri­ally re­ported. This fact, now in­dis­putable, sug­gests a range of ex­pla­na­tions, from de­lib­er­ate de­ceit to in­com­pe­tence at the high­est lev­els.

Repub­li­cans have fo­cused on a nar­ra­tive that is too ghastly to imag­ine. One the­ory is that Clin­ton and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t want the world to know that their Libya mis­sion had failed, so they blamed it on the anti-Is­lam video then in cir­cu­la­tion. More hor­rid is the sug­ges­tion that Clin­ton pur­posely de­nied ex­tra se­cu­rity to Stevens lest her role in di­rect­ing our Libya pol­icy be tar­nished.

Peo­ple will be­lieve what suits them. But the more prob­a­ble truth con­cern­ing Beng­hazi is that the early story was a de­cep­tion with a pur­pose, which was to buy time un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the CIA could fig­ure out how to man­age the cri­sis with­out ex­pos­ing the in­tel­li­gence agency’s op­er­a­tion in the area.

There may be no sat­is­fac­tory ex­pla­na­tion for why Stevens wasn’t pro­vided more se­cu­rity af­ter mul­ti­ple re­quests or why those re­quests never reached Clin­ton’s desk. She tes­ti­fied that se­cu­rity re­quests were han­dled by ex­perts fur­ther down the line and noted that she had more than 200 am­bas­sadors in her charge. But Libya was spe­cial by virtue of Clin­ton’s role in mold­ing our pol­icy there, as was Stevens, whom Clin­ton hand­picked to wade into the fire.

She has ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity both for what hap­pened and for what didn’t work sys­tem­i­cally un­der her watch, which is about all she can do short of step­ping into a live vol­cano. And though tropes such as “ter­ri­ble things hap­pen in ter­ri­ble places” and “mis­takes were made” bring no so­lace to the be­reaved, they are nonethe­less true in the­aters of chaos.

Speak­ing of which, what­ever Repub­li­cans hoped to ac­com­plish in the hear­ing, they fell em­bar­rass­ingly short. You don’t have to like Clin­ton to ob­jec­tively ob­serve that the hear­ing was lit­tle more than a pro­longed re­it­er­a­tion of known bungling char­ac­ter­ized by con­tempt-coated ques­tions de­liv­ered with near-ha­tred. At times, I thought lasers might sud­denly burst from Ohio Repub­li­can Jim Jor­dan’s eyes and in­cin­er­ate Clin­ton on the spot.

At the end of a very long day, most peo­ple know what they think of Clin­ton and now they know what can be known about Beng­hazi. Take­aways from the hear­ing, how­ever, ac­crue to can­di­date Clin­ton’s ben­e­fit. She dis­played the men­tal dis­ci­pline of a Jedi, the phys­i­cal stamina of a boxer and the pa­tience of a basilisk, a fair im­i­ta­tion of which she main­tained through spells of bick­er­ing among com­mit­tee mem­bers. Fi­nally, any pretense that the com­mit­tee and hear­ing weren’t po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated was shat­tered by the Repub­li­can’s strat­egy it­self — yet an­other de­cep­tion with a pur­pose that back­fired.

She dis­played the men­tal dis­ci­pline of a Jedi and the pa­tience of a basilisk.

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