She was summoned on Wednesday to answer difficult and important questions, and that is what Hillary Clinton did. The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, still demands answers, and the secretary of state did not shrink from her necessary testimony.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the outgoing secretary of state once again took responsibility for the deaths of four Americans in Libya. She rejected the continuing Republican fantasy that misinformation circulated after the attack is more important than the attack, itself, and even drew an admiring compliment from an otherwise critical Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
What is necessary at this point, Clinton said, is to learn from what happened to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. This wasn’t a “mistakes were made” kind of evasion. Clinton said the requests for additional security at the Benghazi outpost never made it to her desk – and also noted, appropriately, that Congress had repeatedly rejected additional security funding – but as head of the sprawling State Department, she was clear and emphatic: The responsibility was hers. Short of slitting her wrists, it’s hard to see what else her critics were looking for, beyond political advantage.
Some of her critics clearly are out for blood. In and out of Congress, a pack of wolves was publicly baying that her recent illness – a concussion followed by a blood clot in her skull – were faked. They were, according to this slander, nothing more than her cowardly way of avoiding accountability and perhaps even protecting her reputation for a possible 2016 presidential campaign. It was a shameful and spiteful moment for the rabid right crowd.
Perhaps that is what moved McCain to observe to Clinton, despite his fierce criticism of her, that “We are proud of you. All over the world where I travel, you are viewed with admiration and respect.” Perhaps, too, the comment was a recognition that Clinton has broad bipartisan support around the country and that McCain doesn’t want to see his party bury its future hopes even more than it has with women, Hispanics and other big voting blocs. A little respect might not hurt.
Congress and the administration must continue to investigate what happened in Benghazi. It is important for Americans to know what happened there, and why. How much of that tragedy was the fault of Clinton, or the State Department, or Congress? What else should change, beyond the 29 recommendations of an oversight panel – recommendations that Clinton said she is already implementing?
The appearance marks a capstone, at least temporarily, to a remarkable public life. Clinton is stepping out of the public eye after 20 years in high-profile positions: first lady; U.S. senator from New York; presidential candidate; and, finally, secretary of state. And that doesn’t count her years in Arkansas as the wife of then-Gov. Bill Clinton. It’s a resume that should inspire young girls everywhere.
She has made plenty of enemies along the way, but more friends and admirers, evidently including Republicans like McCain. We wish her well as she ponders her future, but we have a suspicion it won’t be long before she is back in the spotlight.