woody_zimmerman_118_2007You have a fine color when you’re on the scrap, Mrs. Rogers…” (John Wayne, The Shootist, 1979)

Finally recovered from her concussion, blood clot, and other ailments, Madam Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, showed a fine temper yesterday when both senators and congressmen finally grilled her about the violence in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other embassy personnel and destroyed our embassy. Reports gradually trickling out after the violence indicated that repeated requests from the ambassador for additional security help had been denied by the State Department, and that in situ military personnel had been ordered to “stand down” from any involvement in the incident.

For at least a week following, State Department and other Obama Administration spokespersons insisted that the attacks “grew out of demonstrations” supposedly protesting an obscure Internet video that mocked the Prophet Muhammed. U. N. Diplomat Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday talk-shows on September 16, 2012, to denounce the “reprehensible” video that she claimed had motivated the violence and the deaths. Those claims about the video gradually faded away when evidence emerged to deny that “rioting mobs” presaged the Benghazi violence. Military analysts showed that the deadly attacks were clearly planned and executed by terrorist elements – almost certainly Al Qaeda.

Republicans claimed that the entire video-tale was a legend created to protect the carefully crafted narrative that Al Qaeda forces in the region were “on the run” and all but defeated, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Admitting that the Benghazi incident was a carefully planned and executed terrorist attack would have undone that narrative and exposed Mr. Obama’s “Al Qaeda-destroyer” image as a fraud during his re-election campaign.

In the months that followed, Mrs. Clinton evaded repeated calls from Congressional Republicans to answer questions about the Benghazi incidents. Then she was sidelined for a month, following a fall that produced a concussion and a blood clot said to be in her brain. Mrs. Clinton had already announced her intention to resign from her cabinet position after Mr. Obama’s second-term inauguration. On January 23rd she complied with demands that she appear before Foreign Affairs committees of both House and Senate to testify about the Libyan embassy violence.

Secretary Clinton once again showed herself to be an adroit and combative politician, first using tears and then a tough, aggressive style in her testimony. Her voice broke when she spoke of having stood with the president and bereaved family members when the flag-draped caskets were unloaded at Andrews AFB. Later, when pressed on why the video-clip-cum-riots story was still being peddled after terrorist involvement had been established, Mrs. Clinton angrily exploded at Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.):

With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans! Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?!!”

The combative riposte from the beleaguered Madam Secretary made good copy for media scribes, but in the follow-up by various pundits and reporters I heard nary a word about the substance of Mrs. Clinton’s words. Was she right? Did it really not matter, at this point, why or how those deadly attacks came about?

Well… er, yes, it does matter. It matters quite a lot whether that violence happened “…because of a protest or …because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans…” The Secretary also delicately omitted a third possibility – i.e., that a still-robust Al Qaeda had carefully planned and executed the attacks to fall on September 11th, of infamous memory to Americans.)

Let’s look at what she said and what she left unsaid. First, what about the “guys out for a walk”? The comment evokes teens drinking and looking for mischief on a Friday night. (OK, it was a Tuesday…) Is it credible that, on a whim, a few Libyan JDs could gather a score of heavily armed comrades and knock over the American embassy and an adjunct facility where the ambassador was hiding out? Obviously, Madame Secretary was using hyperbole here. She didn’t mean it to be taken seriously. We'll follow suit.

What about the “protest” idea? In all the Sturm und Drang of her testimony, I don’t believe Mrs. Clinton ever clearly refuted the much-repeated legend of the infamous Internet video and the angry mobs of “protestors” propelled onto the Arab Street by it. She simply glossed over it as “the best information we had at the time” – or some similar comment. The “best information?” Really? Where did it come from? Mrs. Clinton didn’t say. (If from our “intelligence” arm, then we’re probably in deeper doo-doo than we realized.)

An “anachronism” is an item that doesn’t fit because it is misplaced in time – e.g., Julius Caesar looking at his watch; or Joe Biden’s reference to FDR having addressed the nation on television at a time when TV reporting had not yet emerged and few Americans had video receivers. There is an analogous concept regarding cultural or societal items that might belong to one culture, but not to another. Widespread use of personal computers and the Internet in the Mideast are such items. Americans tend to assume that every society has the access to these technologies that we have. But they do not.

The Obama Administration, including the State Department, would have us believe that millions of people on the Arab Street found an obscure video clip on the Internet that few Americans had heard about. According to State, those highly technical, Internet-savvy Arabs supposedly rose up in spontaneous protests that escalated into a coordinated attack that destroyed our Libyan embassy and killed the ambassador and several others. Really? (I need to come up for air here.)

As mentioned previously, the robust, fully operative Al Qaeda possibility could not be mentioned by State because it might shatter Mr. Obama’s fragile image as the Warrior King who killed Bin Laden and finished off Al Qaeda. Damaging that image could not be permitted before the November election. Thus, the denial of Al Qaeda-involvement had to be taken to absurd lengths. Any normal person associated with such an attempt would be embarrassed when confronted by it. No doubt Mrs. Clinton is entirely “normal” in that respect. Her angry reaction to being pressed on it shows that clearly.

Mrs. Clinton put on a fine show (and showed a fine color) that probably pleased her supporters, and Democrats in general, but I’m surprised that she fired the “what difference does it make?” salvo. Does it matter how it all went down? As Joe Biden might say - #$%^& yes! Of all possible points of dispute, “why” and “how” always have the greatest import in statecraft. She must know that. If not, did she really belong in the job?

Her adherents think Mrs. Clinton is the “smartest woman in America.” Perhaps she is, but she really had very little experience to prepare her for the responsibilities at State. When she was appointed, in 2009, I predicted that her role would be to deflect any heat from Mr. Obama, should anything go wrong in foreign affairs. In that respect, if in no other, she has certainly succeeded.

Please don't slam the door on your way out, Madam Secretary.